Bareback is a term that originated in gay slang to describe acts of unprotected sex, especially anal sex. The term's usage, however, has crossed-over to more mainstream slang to describe any type of penetrative sexual act without the use of a condom.
Before the mainstream awareness of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, anal sex with and without condoms was not as prevalent in communications among men who had sex with men (MSMs). Sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention campaigns encouraged condom use but an urgency arose once transmission of HIV/AIDS was somewhat understood (see HIV for more information). Researchers encouraged condom usage as an effective way to reduce HIV transmission. Condoms are now known to be an effective barrier against HIV, as well as to herpes simplex, Cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B, chlamydia and gonorrhea. 
The gay male community, having been affected the most by the pandemic, mobilized quickly and the practice of unprotected anal sex quickly became taboo within the community. This was the time when the need for a term to describe the difference between "protected" and "unprotected" sexual acts arose.
Barebacking as a practice is claimed to have become increasingly common again among MSMs in the mid-1990s. Reasons for this are varied, and include correlations based on: an "upswing" in the level of new HIV infections amongst gay men in younger age groups cited by the CDC and WHO, a more public presence of "bareback" literature, personal ads, and publicity of rebellious attitudes towards the practice; the increased effectiveness of HIV/AIDS treatments and the decline of people with AIDS being highly visible and physically compromised as a result of the disease. The later two rationales held in comparison to the 1980s in the gay community when those infected were often visibly sick and their health rapidly declining coupled with mainstream attention to the "new" disease.
Gay columnists and editorialists in The Advocate, Genre magazine and Out magazine during the late 1990s and into the new millennium have made several claims as to why barebacking in first-world nation gay communities as a practice, re-surged in the 1990s.
- The advent and relatively noticeable success of protease inhibitors and other drugs for treating HIV infections has changed the perception of HIV infection from an untreatable terminal illness to a treatable chronic malady.
- Decreasing effectiveness of health education messages in the gay community fails to promote condom use (see condom fatigue).
- Methamphetamines have become akin to a "drug of choice" within gay male (and other) populations; individuals under the influence of meth are less likely to be concerned over potential hazards of their behaviour.
- Gay men with opposing beliefs about the practice of barebacking get "more publicity" about their feelings than in the past.
- Bareback pornography is available and contributes to the apathy, romanticising and eroticising of the practice.
- Online solicitation services for bare-backing partners has led to an increase in the practice.
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Bareback sex by gay men is controversial both inside and outside the gay community. Some condemn barebacking and barebackers because they believe that the practice has caused upsurges in of STDs and HIV infections among young people and has given bad publicity to the gay community.
Other commentators say that the publicity that barebacking has received is disproportionate to its pervasiveness, and that any focus by news media or epidemiologists on barebacking has more to do with stereotypes of gay men as promiscuous and irresponsible, along with the larger culture's aversion to gay male sexuality, instead of any real change in what gay men are doing. The latter group of commentators may also argue that adult men should be able to engage in the consensual acts of their choosing without permission or apology.
Bareback has become a fetish among some in the gay community. In addition to bareback pornography (see below), there are websites and discussion boards on the Internet devoted exclusively to barebacking that feature pictures of men engaged in bareback sex, personal advertisements of men seeking bareback sex with other men and erotic short stories involving barebacking. This subculture has developed its own slang terms, such as "breeding" (ejaculation inside the rectum of the receptive participant), "charging up" (the same as breeding, but the male doing the ejaculating is HIV positive), "Russian Roulette party" or "conversion party" (a group sex party attended by HIV-positive and HIV-negative persons, the latter taking the chance that they may become infected with HIV).
Bareback gay pornography exists, with some bareback films portraying and glamorizing ejaculation in the rectum or on the anus of the models in the films. There are a number of gay pornography studios that produce bareback films. A number of Eastern European studios supply the increasing demand from homosexual men in North America and Western Europe for bareback pornography, including SEVP and Eurocreme and Czech producers who supply footage to Hot Desert Knights for their "international line". These studios and the stars of their films have often come under heavy criticism for showing, and perhaps romanticizing, bareback sex, particularly to young gay men. However, proponents claim the films actually keep barebacking to a minimum in the gay community by providing men with a visual substitute for the actual act.
Some bareback pornography studios say that they do not inquire whether their models are HIV positive, but assume that they are infected. Other studios claim that they test their models for HIV antibodies and only hire models who are HIV negative.
Bareback heterosexual pornography in the U.S. has long been the norm and only recently has slightly changed to reflect new restrictions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that state that requiring models to have unsafe sex in films creates a hazardous working environment.
Condom use amongst heterosexual people has dramatically increased during the last 20 years as groups respond to health messages about HIV/AIDS prevention. In some groups, the use of a condom has become the norm, and the use of the word "bareback" has gained utility as a way to describe sex without a condom.
Regardless, bareback heterosexual sex without a condom has not created the moral panic that gay barebacking has. This can be attributed to the fact that gay men have become more organized in STD prevention. Furthermore barebacking is gaining popularity amongst the swinging arena whereby organizers are offering a vetting service for members to reduce the risk of STIs.
In the sex trade, the willingness to bareback is a selling point for sex workers to their clients despite the increased risks implied to the client. A "girlfriend experience" may imply a lack of barriers. Many prostitutes are willing to perform a bareback blowjob (BBBJ) because it is less risky than other forms of unprotected contact with body fluids.
- Fluid bonding
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Condom Effectiveness, accessed 2008-04-06.
- Keith J. Horvath, Blair Beadnell, and Anne M. Bowen, "Sensation Seeking as a Moderator of Internet Use on Sexual Risk Taking Among Men Who Have Sex With Men," Sexuality Research & Social Policy 3 (December 2006): 77-90. doi:10.1525/srsp.2006.3.4.77.
- 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. J.C. Adams's "The Adams Report: The GayVN Awards Show Highlights" (2002) at quotes Jackson Price, the then director of casting for HDK as saying “we assume everyone is positive" and that HDK did not require disclosure of any model's HIV status. However, on February 7, 2008, HDK announced that it would begin testing its models for HIV and engage in a process of "sero-sorting", a controversial scheme in which studios 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." See: http://www.thesword.com/2008/02/bareback-studio-commits-to-hiv-testing.html In contrast, [[Bel Ami (adult film company)|]] 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 at states “all our performers are regularly tested for the presence of HIV or other communicable diseases”.
- Halkitis, Perry N., Leo Wilton, Richard J. Wolitski, Jeffrey T. Parsons, Colleen C. Hoff, and David S. Bimbi. Barebacking Identity among HIV-positive Gay and Bisexual Men: Demographic, Psychological, and Behavioral Correlates. AIDS 19 (April 2005): S27-S35.
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