Barebacking! Shame! Finger Wagging! Modern Prevention Ignores Science, Endorses Stigma

Today, Ed Stannard writes for the New Haven Register, “The early years of the AIDS scourge, when lesbians and gay men in particular were [dying in large numbers] is largely a history lesson to those who are now in their 20s and whose HIV-positive friends show no signs of the infection because of modern medications. So the numbers of new infections are rising again.” Continuing on without addressing the breathtaking fallacy contained in that little two word transitional expression, “So,” Stannard continues by profiling a serodiscordant couple, where one individual is HIV- and one is HIV+, writing, “Jonathan Near, 32, has the virus, at undetectable levels because of three medications. Near was infected during a one-time encounter when he didn’t use protection. ‘It was one of those nights,’ [Near] said.”

Haphazardly breezing by the encouraging fact that HIV transmission through needle drug use has plummeted both nationwide and there in Connecticut, Stannard continues on with his weepy opus to a quainter, simpler time in American history when nobody knew how HIV was transmitted, when the only people who got it were whores having “one of those nights” out on the town, I presume a complete outlier to one’s personal behavior naturally given the All-American profile afforded to Near by Stannard, and then flourishes by cryptically demanding more money for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. Specifically, Stannard finishes his inadvertently stigmatic piece by finger wagging cash strapped legislatures with “as money dries up and public awareness dims, HIV remains the life-threatening scourge it’s been for three decades.”

Personally, I am unaware as to what “one of those nights” looks like. Then again, I actually take responsibility for the fact that I behaved, obviously, in a way that opened me up to possible HIV transmission and do not talk about my own seroconversion in an abstract, hands-off manner that completely absolves me of my own actions. Now, the fact that I behaved naturally, that is, I had sexual contact with another human being, is completely morally neutral. After all, the fact that the gentleman mentioned in the article was simply having “one of those nights” demonstrates that he was simply unlucky, I presume. With that in mind, and the implied random nature of infection given that I was having “one of those nights” for years until I had “the night,” I must conclude, logically, that HIV has no moral component. Unfortunately, this is not what is implied in this article.

Instead, Stannard vacillates between complete pity for those HIV+ wretches who were, I presume, whores for even just one night, and apparent ignorance as to the actual scientific reality facing the HIV+ population today in relation to treatment. Frankly, I presume the writer to be completely ignorant to the fact that an exhaustive study just concluded that immediate treatment of HIV with antiretroviral medications coupled with adherence to this medication eradicates statistically transmitting HIV to sexual partners.

In fact, this study was concluded two years ahead of schedule because the “effect was so clear” to the researchers of the efficacy modern medications had on HIV transmission that no more research was necessary into the matter. Interestingly enough, the biggest factor contributing to HIV transmission was how early individuals living with HIV started treatment; those who went along with the CDC’s current guideline of hitting early and immediately starting treatment regardless of viral load or CD4 count have almost no statistical risk whatsoever of transmitting HIV to any sexual partner.

Yet, no matter how many times we say this, no matter how many times we use science to point out the fact that if someone is newly diagnosed, immediately goes on to modern triple or quadruple therapy antiretroviral treatment, and adheres to this treatment precisely as directed, he has no statistical chance of passing on HIV to sexual partners even when he barebacks, we still experience severe reaction. In my personal experience, this criticism, overwhelmingly emotional, is mostly from older individuals and HIV prevention specialists.

Curiously, the latter group ignores completely the facts and studies conducted that prove my and others’ theses surrounding barebacking and, instead, relies exclusively on sex-negative condom campaigns, I assume because they are professionally lazy or, frankly, intellectually incapable of reading data (I do not group sex-positive organizations in this bloc, obviously). The former group, however, relies exclusively on trips down hellish memory lane and, essentially, screams the gay equivalent of “REMEMBER THE MAINE!” whenever someone posits that, perhaps, barebacking is not the root cause of a growing HIV infection rate. The fact of the matter remains, however, that dictating public health policy or trying to analyze personal ethics in relation to sexual behavior cannot and must not rely on past stigma, personal anecdotes, or “RENT” songs.

Notwithstanding this seemingly obvious fact, the Huffington Post allowed writer David Duran to go off the reservation late last year and dismiss anyone who engages in Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis as, verbatim, a “Truvada Whore.” Specifically, Duran writes, “Here’s my issue. In my experience, it seems that a good number of those running to get the prescription are gay men who prefer to engage in unsafe practices. Some will argue that regardless of Truvada, such men will continue to have unsafe (including bareback) sex, and that taking this pill will help decrease their chances of being infected. So instead of educating and promoting safe sex practices, the FDA is encouraging the continuation of unsafe sex and most likely contributing to the spread of other sexually transmitted infections.” Count me in on that lazy “Some will argue” statement and add my own conjecture as to Duran’s real underlying issue, which I presume is actually shame toward the whores who keep infecting his friends, who I again presume are all innocently looking for husbands on GrindR or in bathhouses.

PrEP, which uses the efficacy of HIV medication in reverse through prescriptions of ARV to HIV- individuals as a preemptive measure against human nature, is beginning to receive more and more acceptance from the medical community and more and more scorn, naturally, from those who feel that HIV should be coupled with a lot more shame than a virus contains naturally. For the record, biologically, viruses are incapable of transmitting shame. Yet, we should be unsurprised by the current refusal by mainstream media, local writers, activists, and HIV prevention specialists to acknowledge the inconvienent fact that the conventional wisdom is no longer wise and nor is it particularly conventional given the fact that more and more individuals are barebacking. After all, nobody wants to admit that what they’ve done for years is now looking completely irrelevant to the current landscape. If you doubt this, just consider the blowback to the North American Free Trade Agreement or listen to Billy Joel’s “Allentown.”  Even so, Presidential candidates love to stand with wayward steelworkers and make people feel warm and fuzzy about being behind the eight ball economically.

Pointless, indeed, is each and every new HIV infection given the fact that we have every ability to stop infections by increasing availability, access, and adherence to HIV treatment. Right now, we’re choosing to endorse conventional wisdom because of residual pain felt from the 1980s and 1990s or because we’re, whether inadvertently or not, opting to shame people for having recreational activities that sometimes result in viruses crossing the blood barrier. In either case, we’re responsible for not doing anything and, instead, burying our heads in the sand. Out of laziness, scorn, or maudlin sentimentality, we’re imperiling more lives and making things much, much harder than they need to be for a great many people.

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7 responses to “Barebacking! Shame! Finger Wagging! Modern Prevention Ignores Science, Endorses Stigma

  1. hmmmm. Most of us all know where unsafe sex can lead but this has shades of finger waiving in the notion that barebacking is illegal. Barebacking or au natural isnt responsible in most cases but it is my belief that the condemnation of the act doesnt help in our cause of Stigmatization. Drug addiction is another story and plays a part in why people use drugs and have unsafe sex, e.g.; self loathing and shame. On HIV/AIDS, heteros have been shamed in the notion of being shameful with regard to recreational sex and dare I say homos have been prosecuted and killed (aggressively and passively) for having this basic human instinct. Humans like other animals are wired to engage in sex. Religious Institutions and Governments of all worlds have drilled into our societies that sex is only for procreation and the act is reserved for this alone. Where has this gotten our world, overpopulation, unwanted children, infidelity, crimes of passion? Is this why the Jewish community surrendered (one of their own) Jesus to Pilate? Was Jesus a barebacker? This is what we are doing here turning our own into the authorities. Call me a Hippie, call me a heretic, call me what you will. My understanding of sex outside of procreation is for pleasure and if you happen to be so inclined, sharing this pleasure with another person(s)-consensually and honestly of course. Wearing a condom does practically eliminate the risk of contracting STD’s but it also practically eliminates the very reasons humans engage in sex….to be “at one” or to “share” in the experience with his or her partner. Please, prove me wrong. Someone tell me how much they love to wear a condom. How satisfied they feel after intercourse with a condom. It is unfortunate that we have to use an unnatural apparatus to perform a natural act to keep alive. Why does the Homosexual Community allow to be dehumanized? Marriage is great but not the end all of equality, its institutional equality. Not having a/the disease in our community, that almost exclusively effects our community (MSM) is (human) EQUALITY. This is why I believe a cure is of the utmost importance. I dare the the powers that be to release the cure. And if y’all still believe it hasnt been there since the beginning of this nightmare, well let me know when the sand gets to much to breathe in. DEMAND IT!

  2. The HPTN 052 Study says that 97% of the participants were heterosexual and these couples were also from non-Western nations… so does your premise of treatment as prevention and condomless-sex as A-OK for Western, homosexual couples?

  3. The HPTN 052 Study says that 97% of the participants were heterosexual and these couples were also from non-Western nations… so does your premise of treatment as prevention and condomless-sex as A-OK for Western, homosexual couples stand?

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