Bareback (sex)

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Bareback sex is physical sexual activity, especially sexual penetration, without the use of a condom.[1] The term is a slang word that originated in the gay community[2] and comes from the equestrian term bareback, which refers to the practice of riding a horse without a saddle. It therefore has the connotation of being wild, dangerous, and fun.[3] Barebacking usually refers to a conscious and deliberate choice to forgo condoms.


Further information: Condom

Initially used for contraceptive purposes, condoms also came to be used to limit or prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs), even after other contraceptive methods were developed. As AIDS emerged and the sexual transmission of HIV became known in the 1980s, the use of condoms to prevent infection became much more widespread, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM) who engage in anal sex. At the beginning of the AIDS crisis, in the context of the invention and development of safe sex, the uptake of condoms among Western MSM was so widespread and effective that condom use became established as a norm for sex between men. From 1995, several high-profile HIV positive men[who?] declared their refusal to wear condoms with other HIV positive men in gay publications, dubbing the practice barebacking. While these early articulations of barebacking expressed a concern for HIV prevention, in that they generally referred to dispensing with condoms in the context of sex between people of the same HIV status, the moral panic which ensued was so pronounced that barebacking came to be framed as a rebellious and transgressive erotic practice for HIV positive and HIV negative people alike, irrespective of the risks of HIV transmission.[4]

Claimed resurgence[edit]

A resurgence of barebacking in first-world gay communities during the 1990s has been a frequent topic for gay columnists and editorialists in The Advocate, Genre magazine, and Out magazine.[5][citation needed] An article in the online resource The Body lists no fewer than 22 reasons as to why barebacking has become increasingly acceptable in the gay community.[6] The following list includes some of the points made by The, but goes beyond it in drawing on some more recent research:


An extreme form of barebacking is bugchasing, in which seronegative gay men actively seek to be infected with the HIV virus.[11]

Gay pornographic films[edit]

Bareback gay pornography was standard in "pre-condom" films from the 1970s and early 1980s. As awareness of the risk of AIDS developed, pornography producers came under pressure to use condoms, both for the health of the performers and to serve as role models for their viewers. By the early 1990s new pornographic videos usually featured the use of condoms for anal sex. However, beginning in the 1990s, an increasing number of studios have been devoted to the production of new films featuring men engaging in unprotected sex.[12] For example, San Francisco-based studio Treasure Island Media, whose work focuses in this area, has produced bareback films since 1999. Other companies that do so include SEVP and Eurocreme. Mainstream gay pornographic studios such as Kristen Bjorn Productions have featured the occasional bareback scene such as in "El Rancho" between performers who are real-life partners. Other studios such as Falcon Entertainment have also reissued older pre-condom films.[13] Also, mainstream studios that consistently use condoms for anal sex scenes may sometimes choose editing techniques that make the presence of condoms somewhat ambiguous and less visually evident, and thus may encourage viewers to fantasize that barebacking is taking place, even though the performers are following safer-sex protocols. (In contrast, some mainstream directors use close-up shots of condom packets being opened, etc., to help clearly establish for the viewer that the sex is not bareback.)

Some bareback pornography studios say that they do not inquire whether their models are HIV positive, but assume that they are infected. For example, Hot Desert Knights (HDK) was one of the studios that initially operated on the assumption that all of their bareback models were HIV positive.[14] However, in February 2008 HDK announced that it would begin testing its models for HIV and engage in a process of "sero-sorting", which match HIV-positive performers with other HIV-positive performers, and negative with negative. Critics suggest that sero-sorting may not prevent the development of a multi-strain "supervirus." By contrast, Bel Ami is one of the studios that claimed from the beginning to test their bareback models for HIV before allowing them to participate in condom-free scenes. A notice on the Bel Ami website states: "all our performers are regularly tested for the presence of HIV or other communicable diseases."[15]

Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation was formed to promote and facilitate STD testing and safety precautions among pornographic film actors.

Heterosexual bareback[edit]

The term bareback is used less frequently in the heterosexual community.[2] A survey by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that heterosexual women are more likely to bareback when engaging in anal sex than homosexual and bisexual men.[16] Heterosexual bareback sex, as opposed to sex with condoms, not only poses an increased risk of STIs, but for pregnancy as well.

Fluid bonding[edit]

Fluid bonding refers to unprotected sex in long-term relationships. The relationships can be either monogamous or polyamorous.[17] This is usually undertaken once medical advice and STI tests have been taken.

By anecdotal accounts, many couples who intend to become fluid bonded generally only do so when intending to undertake a serious exclusive relationship or even marriage; the method of choice being to undertake a pair of tests separated in time by one year, with either complete abstinence or continuing to use condoms in the intervening time, a practice known as "double-gating". Properly used, "double-gating" will reduce the probability of either person in the couple having HIV to less than 1 in 10,000 if all tests turn up HIV-free. The one drawback to the approach is that this will not detect any cheating that may have been done a month or less before the second set of tests, the maximum amount of time required for HIV to become detectable, so this approach is not recommended for people who routinely have frequent partners.

In polyamorous or open arrangements, there is usually an agreement to practice protected sex outside of those within the fluid bonded relationship(s).

Sex work[edit]

In the sex trade, the willingness to bareback is a selling point for sex workers to their clients, despite the increased risks.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Partridge, Eric; Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry (2006), The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: A-I (reprint ed.), Taylor & Francis, p. 92, ISBN 978-0-415-25937-8, "Bareback - to engage in sex without a condom." 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Blechner, M. (2002) Intimacy, pleasure, risk, and safety. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6:27-33
  4. ^ a b Race, Kane (2010), "Engaging in a Culture of Barebacking: Gay Men and the Risk of HIV Prevention", HIV Treatment and Prevention Technologies in International Perspective (Palgrave Macmillan), ISBN 978-0-230-23819-0 
  5. ^ Finlayson, Iain (21 June 1998). "The Human Condition: Johnny be good". The Independent. "Whatever happened to that condom moment? 'Bareback', or unprotected, sex is still practiced by up to a third of gay men - because, despite the dangers, it feels liberated, sensuous and like one in the eye for 'sex police'" 
  6. ^ a b c d See Rick Sowadsky, "Barebacking in the Gay Community," The Body (May, 1999).
  7. ^ Holmes, Dave; O'Byrne, Patrick; Gastaldo, Denise (2006), "Raw Sex as Limit Experience: A Foucauldian Analysis of Unsafe Anal Sex between Men", Social Theory & Health (Palgrave Macmillan) 4.4: 319–333, doi:10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700077, ISSN 1477-8211, OCLC 366722101  and Martin, James (2006), "Transcendence Among Gay Men: Implications for HIV Prevention", Sexualities (Sage Publications) 9.2: 214–235, doi:10.1177/1363460706058398, ISSN 1363-4607, OCLC 441346802 
  8. ^ Horvath, Keith J; Beadnell, Blair; Bowen, Anne M (2006), "Sensation Seeking as a Moderator of Internet Use on Sexual Risk Taking Among Men Who Have Sex With Men", Sexuality Research & Social Policy (University of California Press) 3.4: 77–90, doi:10.1525/srsp.2006.3.4.77, ISSN 1553-6610, OCLC 357815326 
  9. ^ Perry N. Halkitis
  10. ^ Halkitis PN, Drescher J, Wilton L (2005). "Barebacking: psychosocial and public health approaches". Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy 9 (3/4): 14–15. doi:10.1300/j236v09n03_01. ISBN 0-7890-2174-9. 
  11. ^ Gregory A. Freeman, "In Search of Death," Rolling Stone, January 23, 2003; Gemma Aldridge, "Bug chasing: Men deliberately trying to catch HIV for sexual thrill in astonishing craze", Mirror, July 7, 2013,
  12. ^ Holt, Madeleine (4 March 2008). "HIV scandal in gay porn industry". BBC. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  13. ^ "Bareback Classics" (FVS 301) is an example of such a re-issue by Falcon.
  14. ^ J. C. Adams, "The Adams Report: The GayVN Awards Show Highlights" (2002), quotes Jackson Price, the then director of casting for HDK, as saying, "we assume everyone is positive," and as implying that HDK did not require disclosure of any model's HIV status. (This report no longer appears to be available online.)
  15. ^ (archive)
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Polyamory 101" by Cherie L. Ve Ard and Franklin Veaux. ©2003, 2005 Xero

Further reading[edit]