Condoms protect from all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases. They are a good thing, especially when you are young and promiscuous. And yet barebacking is on the increase worldwide. HIV infection rates amongst young men are not coming down. Some countries with a big ecstasy ("E") problem have soaring infection rates, because use of the drug seems to correlate with bareback sex.
To get to the bottom (and the top) of the problem, I spoke to 40 gay men in seven countries: England, Germany, the United States, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan, either online or in person. All of them made it clear in their online profiles that they eschew the use of protection. None of them is HIV-positive. Here is the list of reasons why they don't use condoms:
Reason #1: "I am a top, and it's very hard to get HIV when you are a top."
That's just plain nonsense. Though one is less likely to contract HIV as a top than as a bottom, unprotected sex facilitates transmission, whether you are in the top or in the bottom bunk. In short, you are a fool.
Reason #2: "I don't care. HIV is not a threat anymore. If I get it, I'll just go on meds."
You may not care, but you are harming others. If you don't care, you are also not getting tested and may be spreading all kinds of germs as we speak. Plus, you are intentionally putting a big burden on your country's health system. You are a selfish prick.
Reason #3: "I don't sleep with white guys."
This perhaps surprising reason made it in the top three because I talked to lots of guys in Asia. There is a preposterous notion of chauvinistic in-group safety and out-group threat there, a notion that is not just racist but plain stupid, really stupid.
Reason #4: "I get soft when I see a condom."
I don't know. That's more psychological, don't you think? Maybe the guy wasn't that hot in the first place?
Patrick Ettenes, an activist in Manchester, UK, puts it this way: "The expression 'ignorance is bliss' pops into my head. In this day and age, people should know the risks involved; whether we choose to educate ourselves is another story."
The level of ignorance around the world is indeed shocking. Education efforts have stopped in many countries. For a long time, giving out condoms was thought to be a panacea. It's not. HIV/AIDS may have lost its sting, but it still destroys lives, and the next mutation or the next STI is just around the corner.
"We might not be dying from AIDS anymore, but a lot of us are falling apart," writes Patrick. "We are barebacking, knowing we are at risk, mentally blocking out what we are doing."
Funny enough, it's not really a new problem. In my research for Benedetto Casanova: The Memoirs, my account of the life of Casanova's fictional gay brother, I came across this sentiment in the syphilis-riddled aristocratic circles of Paris: "It is a known fact that drawing a pentagram in a circle under the bed while fornicating will protect from this and many other diseases." Hmm, nothing has changed in 250 years.
If you don't use condoms (and are HIV-negative), I'd like to hear from you. Why do you take the risk?