BARE-BACKING :THE THRILL THAT KILLS – Unprotected Sex is Popular and Perilous

| June 9, 2011 | Comments (1)


Around  5 PM  the  place begins  to get crowded. People pace the busy corridors in a rush-hour crush similar to  peak-hour traffic  at Grand Central Station and the subway three blocks away. Only this is not a subway or a commuter  train station. It is a gay bath house  and business is just getting started for the evening.

When the eye adjusts to the dimly-lit hallway, a seemingly endless parade of towel-clad men can be seen pacing the corridors or simply standing, waiting. Glances are exchanged; couples pair off and move to private rooms, the steam bath or “resting areas.” If there is a bustle about the place and people seem to be in a hurry, it is because they are. Many of these bath house visitors are stealing a hour or two between office and home   and many of them are men who, before returning to their families for dinner, practice unprotected sex, known in the gay world as “bare-backing.”

As the 30th anniversary of the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic is observed, it is ironic that a “whatever” attitude seems to have taken hold in the gay community  where “raw”, unprotected sexual intercourse has become, if not the norm, a commonly practiced habit.

What has caused this dangerous recidivism that can only contribute to the continuation of a crisis that the public seems to have largely forgotten? Sadly, but predictably, AIDS is no longer “news”; the media has moved on to new topics. There are wars, natural disasters and scandals which pre-empt media coverage and public thirst for something new relegates  AIDS  to the backwater of  newsworthy topics. Continued coverage of AIDS has come to be viewed as “more of the same” and even boring. And as  AIDS has been forgotten , so has the vigilance that once surrounded this health crisis.

Although a  cure in the form of a vaccine  has yet to be found,  success in medical therapies for AIDS  has  also acted perversely to divorce the general public from the continuing reality of the AIDS threat. Up-beat  pharmaceutical  advertisements for anti-retroviral AIDS drugs give the illusion that they are a cure for the disease. In the common mind, AIDS seems to have slipped   into the category of TB, malaria and polio, diseases that are no longer  threatening.  A conversation was overheard recently between two seemingly educated young men where one re-assured the other that “AIDS is like diabetes; it can be dealt with.”

Even cosmetic companies have gotten on the bandwagon using AIDS to promote their products  in a cavalier, misleading way that borders on being unethical. Not long ago a Body Shop poster  featured the logo “Get LIPPY Prevent HIV.” Small print explained that some of the proceeds from the purchase of a pricey lip balm  – LIPPY –  would be donated by Body Shop to AIDS awareness and prevention activities. But to an impressionable customer –  especially a teenager – the unmistakable message was that the product LIPPY  would prevent AIDS.

Despite assurances that AIDS is everybody’s problem, the American public views AIDS as a “gay” disease and shrugs its shoulders about the risk since it is “their” problem. Indeed, because the gay community is the only group that speaks out about AIDS, it reinforces the general illusion that AIDS is a gay issue.

Preventive education is virtually non-existent, limited to farcical   gestures such as teen chastity pledges. Attempts in high schools  to demonstrate condom use has created an uproar forcing curtailment of most  programs leaving teenagers to “self educate” by  surfing online pornography which does not promote safe sex.

Making the practice of safe sex even more difficult, the availability of condoms is limited. They are sold mostly in drug stores  which usually close by  8PM. To purchase a condom in an all-night convenience store –  the only other place where they are readily available – the customer has to ask for them. Many potential users, especially young women, are reluctant to ask for condoms in front of other customers. Toilet dispensers in bars are about the only other outlet for prophylactics, but young people cannot legally enter a bar until they are 21 years old. Even if one wants to use a condom, they are often hard to find.

The United States has the highest sero-prevalence  (AIDS infection) rate  in the industrialized world, nearly  1% of the adult population, more than twice that of Canada and Europe, more comparable to infection rates in some developing countries. This is largely due to a lack of preventive efforts and to a complicated health system which has treated AIDS as a “pre-existing condition” disqualifying   many from  needed  insurance coverage, especially preventive public health measures.

As   the AIDS epidemic enters its fourth decade it is sad that progress in conquering this scourge has been so discouraging. It need not be this way.

( Image – Creative Commons Attribution)

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  1. Tuesday Rose says:

    To wear or not to wear a condom is simply a matter of choice. There are some people who find sex considerably less fulfilling with a condom. Although the difference may be minimal, for them, the sensation is considerably impaired. Besides, who wants to wear a raincoat while taking a shower?

    Tuesday Rose

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