101st Discussion: Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking by Tim Dean


Attendees: Rhys, Colin, Asy, Vicky, Yi Sheng, Rui Jie, Qian Hui, Azura, Calvin, Daniel, Raj, Maya
Moderator: Timmy

Thank you to our friends from gayhealth.sg, Calvin and Daniel, for joining us and sharing their knowledge and insights for this discussion, and of course to our host Raj for the Deepavali snacks and alcohol.

Our discussion started off with defining the term “unlimited intimacy”, which we deemed as engaging in intimacy without stress, and not just about having sex without condoms. We believe that condoms limit (the sensation of) sex, making the act “reductive” and “mindless”. Unlimited, relative to the essay, meant that everyone has plenty of options when it comes to engaging in sexual behaviour, i.e. barebacking being one of them.

9780226139395While the book focused on the prevalence of barebacking in North America, we steered our discussion of the topic to Asia, specifically Singapore. Unlike our Western counterparts, we do not use the term when we forego prophylactics; it is just condomless sex. There were those who equated such practise (i.e. barebacking) as them having “slipped up”, while others reiterated that it is something done by choice. Another point that we pondered on was whether barebacking is an activity only the privileged can afford, seeing as high risks are involved.

Drug use in relation to bareback sex was also brought up, which in itself some believe ought to be considered as a subculture of barebacking that was missed out from the book. Daniel elucidated on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), which we presume may have contributed to even higher numbers of those engaging in bareback sex – intentionally and (presumably) with the knowledge of its consequences – nowadays.

We questioned whether bug chasing and gift giving – terms used for those who have bareback sex with the intention of receiving and spreading HIV – are about having a power complex, seeing as a HIV-positive person can easily infect others with their virus load. As the essay noted, this subculture is about finding and belonging in a community, in spite of the obvious risks.

Photo courtesy of http://syracuseego.blogspot.com/2006/10/english-graduate-organization-presents.html

The discussion then shifted towards HIV and AIDs, particularly on the stigma around them – notably, that HIV is still known as the “gay man’s virus”. According to Daniel, even though more women are getting themselves tested for HIV, the number still pales in comparison to gay men. We also observed that the attitudes towards both diseases have changed, with terms like “community building”, “acceptance”, and looking at being infected as the start of another life and not a “death sentence” being used when talking about HIV and AIDs

There was also the moral issue as we discussed on bareback sex. Admittedly, most do it even with the knowledge that “it is wrong”, presumably because they “want to fuck things up”. It can also be said that having sex without condoms is the ultimate form of connection, redirecting it back to the start of our discussion when we talked about intimacy. We also asked: why is it “wrong” for gay men to engage in barebacking, but when straight people have sex without condoms, it is considered “normal”? Vicky brought up an excellent counterpoint, citing religious beliefs.

Other things that we briefly touched on: terms such as “breeding”, “mussy”, and “shitoris” being used during sexual acts; straight men – mainly black men, apparently – who have sex with other men but do not identify themselves as gay; and knowledge about HIV and AIDs transmissions among the younger generation.

Photo courtesy of https://www.picswe.com/pics/prof-dean-81.htmlEven though we were only required to read the first 98 pages of the book, all of us came away with different perspectives towards barebacking and its subcultures. While there are those who think that the book does not necessarily represent reality and/or sexual moralism, others stood firm on their stance that any sexual activity is done by choice.

At the end of the day, we can all agree that sex – bareback or otherwise – is all about being conscious with one’s choices as well as taking risks. “If you want the intimacy, you have to take the risk,” as someone eloquently puts it.

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Filed under Academic, Bisexuality, Class, Gay, HIV/AIDS, Queer, Sex, Tim Dean, USA

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