Drew Payne’s Website
Barebacking, fucking without using a condom, used to be considered only a problem amongst American gays but resent Government figures make for unsettling reading. They show a 23% rise in HIV infection 2000 to 2001 and a 100% increase in sexually transmitted diseases amongst gay and bisexual men during 1996 to 2001 (Source Public Health Laboratory Service). Once we were congratulating ourselves on how well we, gay men, had responded to the threat of AIDS and HIV, how well we had taken the message of safer sex to heart, how well we were doing. Well, what has gone wrong?
The climate has certainly changed since those nightmare days of the 1980's, when it seemed that AIDS was a new plague. Combined therapy has changed the landscape; it has vastly improved people's health and lives. No longer is AIDS seen as a "dead sentence" or a "crippling illness". Thanks to Combined Therapy people with AIDS have greatly improved health, they are returning to work and being seen as hospital outpatients - it has even lead to hospitals closing their AIDS wards because of lack of demand. Combined Therapy has taken away the fear and threat of AIDS. Now AIDS is seen as a condition that is easily treated.
This, unfortunately, is untrue. There are now strains of HIV that are becoming resistant to combined therapy, - which is on the increase. Combined Therapy can have side effects that can effect how people can take it. The side effects can lead to people stopping taking them or having to stop taking them. The way combined therapy works on HIV it may not be suitable for everyone. Also, combined therapy has to be taken for the rest of a person's life, not just when they are ill. Anyone who's taken a course of antibiotics knows how easy it is to forget to take a tablet or two. Though combined therapy has revolutionised the management of AIDS it is not a cure, and a safe vaccination is still a long way off.
Simply laying the blame onto combined therapy for the increase in HIV infections is being simplistic and not taking a broader view of the issue.
AIDS has certainly fallen from the headlines in the media. Rarely is there an AIDS story on the television news, and the same is true for newspapers and news websites. Occasionally there is an AIDS scare story, "AIDS Infected Doctor Operated on My Granny," but rarely more then that. Though some gay publications give good coverage others never or hardly ever mention AIDS. On the media horizon AIDS has slipped out of sight.
There has been no public health education campaign around AIDS for a very long time. Though the Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men Fighting AIDS do run regular campaigns, there has been nothing nationwide for years. There certainly has not been a campaign aimed at gay men in even longer.
Some feel gay sex has lost its thrill. You're just getting going, getting ready to fuck and then you've got to stop and pull on a condom. It's an old argument but is re-surfacing, especially now that combined therapy is seen as being able to treat AIDS. There's also the feeling, I found on a barebacking website, that gay sex has lost its danger. Gay relationships are almost mainstream, it seems like every soap opera has to have their gay couple, its no longer as being an outsider or dangerous. Fucking without condoms brings back that feeling. My personal response to this that is sex is as exciting as you make it. You can have dull sex with a stranger and exciting sex with your partner of many years.
We must not ignore apathy in all this. AIDS has been with us for twenty years. It no longer has the shock effect it did in the 1980's, we have grown used to it being there. No longer is AIDS there in the headlines, nor are famous people dying from it. Aids has slipped from our concerns.
The rise of HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases amongst gay men should be a wake-up call to us but blaming it on only one factor is simplistic. Speak with anyone involved in Health Promotion and they will tell you that you have to take into account many factors to get your message across. We have, though, lost the message of safer sex; through a change in attitude, advances in medicine, low media attention, lack of information and apathy. We have got to get our safer sex message back. Pulling on a condom should be a turn-on, not a turn-off.
Terrence Higgins Trust Helpline: 020 7831 1010.
Gay Men Fighting AIDS: 020 7738 3718