Not everyone is terrified of H.I.V. During the 1980s, we came to believe that getting infected with H.I.V. was the worst thing that could happen to you — worse even than cancer. People with AIDS appeared to die rapidly and horribly; not only that, they were regarded as socially dead from the moment they received an H.I.V.-positive diagnosis. The association with sex, particularly gay sex, loaded H.I.V./AIDS with more stigma than almost any contemporary illness.
But now North American gay men have been living with the virus in our communities — and in many of our bodies — for decades. Even before effective antiretroviral medications became available, we learned that HIV is not the most dreadful thing to befall a person. As one gay man put it, “I’ve had many worse things happen to me than being infected with H.I.V.; most of them resulted from long-term relationships, which our society regards with benevolence.” Scott O’Hara, who wrote these words, was one of the first to advocate unprotected anal sex between men, otherwise known as barebacking. Here he suggests that a long-term relationship with H.I.V. might be less toxic or debilitating than a long-term relationship with certain other people.
Public health officials think of barebacking only as a “problem” to be overcome — as the C.D.C. affirmed this week. But in my research on bareback subculture for “Unlimited Intimacy,” I discovered that some gay men are using H.I.V. to create relationships. They think about actively sharing the virus as a way to forge connection. Viral transmission is described by some men in the subculture as “gift giving.” At least since Marcel Mauss, anthropologists have understood gift exchange as a way of making and consolidating relationships, and it is no different with H.I.V. In the idiom of bareback subculture, H.I.V. is the gift that keeps on giving.
This is not what epidemiologists, public health workers or, indeed, most people want to hear. But denying or denouncing the popularity of barebacking won’t make it go away. Plenty of men are having unprotected sex without any wish for viral transmission, paradoxical though that may sound if you still believe that gay men should never have sex without a condom. It is impossible to seek erotic intimacy under a cloud of crisis indefinitely. What I learned in my research is that gay men are pursuing bareback sex not just for the thrill of it, but also as a way to experience intimacy, vulnerability and connection. Emotional connection may be symbolized in the idea that something tangible is being exchanged. A desire for connection outweighs adherence to the rules of disease prevention.
Viewed as socially dead, H.I.V.-positive gay men began to experiment with making their own forms of life through viral exchange. Even as H.I.V. disease slowly has become less stigmatized, it also has come to be eroticized by some members of the world in which the virus is prevalent. It has become a sexual preference, as well as a foundation for kinship, connection and community.
Note: This article does not necessarily represent the opinions of Paul Morris or Treasure Island Media. We felt it right to post, allowing each of you to digest, and form your own opinion. We look forward to hearing what you think.
And why not! We have lived in a world driven by fear for far too long. A place where minds are controlled to think the way we’re told to think. This is a decision and a choice we should be able to make and live with. Life is not forever.
Thanks for sharing this piece, Tim Dean’s book is on my ‘to read list’ as a sociologist and it is very interesting as a study. While I completely understand stigma, how HIV is much less the death sentence it was in the 1990’s, discourses about ‘fatigue’ associated with being HIV+, wanting to be identified as a community/ not marginalised (by mainstream LGBT inter alia), and seeking ‘real’ intimacy, I do find that seeking the bug is somewhat different. Making a community is a key issue for the HIV+ guys, and I like watching your lovely movies (;>) and I find the (hypocrisy) from some gay porn producers to be sick-making, yet guys who are seeking the bug in order to ‘belong’ are quite concerning to me. Surely part of this issue is the vulnerability of these men, maybe the issue of poverty and inability to attain health cover is implicated. I stand corrected if I’m in error on this dimension as I am not American, but doesn’t the HIV+ community need to address this aspect?
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??? GIVING A GIFT??? THAT’S TOTALLY BULLSHIT, AND I THINK IT’S AN ATTEMPT OF LONG TERM MURDER
HAVING HIV IS NOT A GAME, OR SOMETHING TO WISH FOR!!! EVEN WITH THE BEST TREATMENTS PEOPLE HIV+ STILL HAVE TO BE REALLY CAUTIOUS BECAUSE A FLU CAN GET MUCH WORST AND BECOME A NEUMONIA AND YOU CAN DIE… THAT ARTICLE IS SOOOO WRONG AND ONLY SHOWS HOW STUPID AND CRAZY GAY PEOPLE CAN BE… AND I’M GAY
I LOVE TREASURE ISLAND MEDIA MOVIES, BUT I THOUGHT THAT ALL YOUR ACTORS WHERE REGULARLY TESTED, THERE ARE HIV TESTS THAT GIVE YOU RESULTS IN 20 MINUTES SO IF YOU WANNA FUCK BAREBACK I SUGEST YOU TO GET SOME AND KEEP THEM IN YOUR NIGHT TABLE DRAWER
WTF??? Okay, for starters, take your keyboard OFF caps lock and stop yelling at us! Next, use the god damn spell check.
Do you assume that all TIM actors are negative? Your attitude certainly suggests that, and I presume the opposite is the case… most of the actors are poz. I also presume, but your tirade, that you are negative??? I can’t stand negative guys like you, who “LOVE TREASURE ISLAND MEDIA MOVIES,” but really hate the fact that HIV poz guys are what help make TIM videos so awesome and perfect!
YES!!! IT IS TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE !!!
if they want to do bareback movies, test your stars before doing them , there are lots of methods to avoid the disease keeps spreading and the only thing they are doing with this post is giving a really bad example… do you think HIV is the only thing you can catch for fucking raw??? did you hear about herpes, ghonorrea, hepatitis, hpv, and thousands of other diseases that are transmitted sexually???
if you are positive you have to take care of yourself 100 times more than if you are negative, you have be out of the cold because a cold can get worst and take you to dead… and I don’t even wanna think if you catch hepatitis or something like that…
I LOVE WATCHING TIM MOVIES, BUT I’M REALLY CAUTIOUS AND I DON’T FUCK BAREBACK unless I test the other person, you can go to wallgreens or CVS and get an ORA QUICK test… it’s only 30$ so i supposed a multi million business like treasure island media did it too…
oh and if I have grammar mistakes, i’m so sorry, I’m spanish and I speak Spanish as my mother language and I’m fluent in english and french… so it’s normal to have a couple mistakes… au revoir
Not a very well written article. I’ll go look for the whole article in the NYT. There are so many scenarios at play now regarding barebacking. I’ve been positive for over 25 years. I’m often mistaken as negative because I haven’t succumbed to any of the disfiguring side effects of meds or wasting. While the stigma of sharing my status with new sex partners is still hard for me, I find that more men are willing to have unsafe/bareback sex as long as I’m undetectable. I also meet young people who are taking the PREP program so that they can have bareback sex. Some people believe there is a cure in the near future and that the wait for it isn’t long. I’ve been waiting for 25 years and I don’t think one is coming. For me the biggest obstacle to being positive is having to live tethered to a urban city that has a reliable HIV support system. I live in SF, but I’m finding that I don’t want to live here much longer but my healthcare is here. Where can I go? I’m not sure.
The idea of associating intimacy with barebacking is a easy one. Of course, bare/raw sex can be more intimate. But is it the only way to achieve intimacy. Is anybody talking about the hunger for intimacy that drives men to spend days at the baths/sex clubs, taking multiple loads. Wishing for intimacy and ending up alone and/or with an STI. I know that I find myself craving contact and intimacy. The feeling of a man fucking me is so powerful. I feel so connected. And then he leaves me alone. It’s not always so great. I’m not the only one.
Anyway, my two cents. Thanks for reading.
So you are suggesting that gift sharing is the gay way of finding someone to create a relationship? Taking into account that the average “gay relationship” is 3 weeks long and people living in LTRs are concerned as boring idiots one must be and idiot himself if he thinks that making other man “positive” would force that person to create any bound… But what do I know, I live in a “negative” monogamous relationship for 5 years now…