Just peruse the men for men ads in your town’s Craigslist and you’ll find lots of guys looking for other barebackers. And no, I am not talking about riding a horse here (but maybe riding someone who is hung like one). 😀 Check out #bbbh on Twitter (that’s the bareback brotherhood for those not in the know); check out barebackrt.com (that’s the bareback real time hook up site). Hey, if you want to have sex without a condom, it seems there’s no end to the possibilities. If you want to see sex without condoms, turn to Treasure Island Media and their lovely documentary-style videos. Try Dawson’s 50-Load Weekend if you want to see a wholesome lad giving selflessly of himself again and again.
Once upon a time, all this barebacking stuff would have been unthinkable. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when AIDS hung like a specter over the gay community, dealing death and sickness relentlessly, sites and movie production companies like the ones above would have been viewed with outrage.
Then along came protease inhibitors, drug cocktails that almost magically changed the AIDS/HIV landscape, transforming a death sentence into an expensive but mostly manageable illness.
The fear dissipated. Men always had sex without protection, even in the heyday of the virus, but today, it’s so common it’s almost banal. Drugs like crystal meth have helped barebacking along its route to everyday usage.
Now, I am not writing here today to warn anyone, to judge anyone, or to debate the merits or drawbacks of having sex (anal sex in particular) without the benefit of a condom. But I am writing to comment on the use of condoms in gay romance.
From my own anecdotal reading experience (and my writing experience), it seems that sex with condoms is more the norm here in m/m romanceland, maybe even more than in the real world. Most m/m authors I’ve read have their characters wrap that Willie unless the time period would make it not make sense, or unless there’s some other mitigating factor (our heroes have both tested negative and decide to throw caution—and Trojans—to the wind).
Personally, I try and have my characters behave responsibly when it comes to safe sex. While my books are not here to educate or to stand on a safer sex soapbox, I do feel it’s my responsibility to present a world where my characters kind of naturally fall into safe sex rhythms. Even in my latest, Raining Men, reviewed here my man-whore main character, Bobby Nelson, uses condoms for anal, even though he’s pretty risky otherwise and none too choosy.
But the reason I’m thinking about this topic today is because something stuck in my head from the comments to my last column, which was all about the phenomenon of the ‘gay for you’ character. I’m not opening that Pandora’s Box again, but I will say that one of the comments I got, perhaps more than once, was that gay romance was all about fantasy. This ‘fantasy’ stance was used to counter my argument that ‘gay for you’ was rare in real life and I often didn’t buy it in fiction.
So, after the comments from that column died down, I wondered why m/m romance writers pretty much uniformly present characters who use condoms. If the romance is pure fantasy, why do some writers then feel the need to present their characters using condoms? Why not just go whole hog (or bareback) with the fantasy and have characters dispense with the condoms and enjoy skin-on-skin contact because, after all, in a romantic fantasy, there would be no consequences for such behavior?
But, in general, we don’t do that. We may have characters that fall in insta-love or become gay for you, but yet we still have them put on a condom when it comes time for some good old fashioned butt drilling.
I’m just throwing this out there because it seems like a bit of a contradiction and certainly not to criticize or suggest we dispense with portraying condom use in our romantic fiction. As someone who is intimately acquainted with the virus both before and after it was “manageable,” I applaud the efforts to include precautionary tactics in gay romance, but I’m just wondering how readers would react if we did away with the condom use in, say, a contemporary romance. Would you feel sympathetic toward an unabashed barebacker? Would you read stories in which the idea of a condom was not really even considered? That is true to real life for many these days and I suppose one could say, as some bareback filmmakers have said, that the depiction of unsafe sex is for fantasy purposes (and some even go so far as to suggest that it might prevent unsafe behavior by giving a safe alternative to actually doing it, but that’s another column).
What do you think? Does bareback sex have a place in gay romance? Could you love a barebacking romantic hero? Or would you shudder for him and worry about the consequences of his behavior?
I’m just curious. Let me know you think.
Rick R. Reed’s Contact Information:
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