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“UB2”: The Legal and Ethical Questions Surrounding the Fringes of Gay Sex

(Note: This is an article about some sexually explicit topics, so both this post and any sites to which I link may be considered textually NSFW.)

In the midst of the latest round of congressional attempts to criminalize abortion, the “right to choose” question has once again interjected itself into the national conversation. Does a woman have the right to choose what to do with her own pregnancy in her own body?

I’d wager that most of us here on Crosstalk would argue for a woman’s right to choose. As with the gay marriage debate, it would seem that many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of legislating morality, especially as it relates to sexuality (ironically, a classically Republican mindset ). But the “right to choose” question extends beyond the issue of abortion; for those in the poz (HIV-positive) community, a debate is raging over the ways they have sex and the necessity of “safe sex” measures.*

See, barebacking has made a comeback in the gay porn industry. Barebacking refers to sexual penetration–usually anal–without the use of a condom.” Barebacking was long a staple of gay sex, but when the AIDS crisis his America, the practice lost its glamor. Only recently has it come back into vogue, the latest thrill to seek for the most sexually adventurous (some would say careless) people. The gay community is split over whether this is a good or bad thing for the LGBT community at large. Many activists wish to require porn studios to include condom use in their feature films; after all, the best way to encourage safe sex and minimize the risk of STI transmission is by using a condom, and it’s irresponsible of some porn studios to continue to promote and profit off of bareback sex. On the other hand, proponents and producers of bareback pornography argue that porn is fantasy, not reality, and viewers understand the difference between the fantastical world that porn depicts and the realities of gay sex.

Along with the most recent rise in barebacking’s popularity has been the increasing prevalence of serosorting–sex between partners with the same STD status. A (relatively) high-profile example of this is Atlanta’s monthly Poz4Play parties, in which HIV-positive men congregate and have unregulated sex with each other. Condoms are offered, but not required; while patrons have to keep their clothes on in the space’s lobby and hallways, several private rooms are available for private, unmonitored sexual activity.

Serosorting isn’t just limited to those in the poz community, however; dating websites for people with specific STIs (such as herpes, HPV, and chlamydia) are growing increasingly popular with gay and straight singles looking to avoid the awkwardness and embarrassment that often comes with admitting one’s STD status to a disease-free partner. As you might imagine, some–but not all–of the couples matched up by these disease-specific sites eschew condom use. And for those who feel stigmatized by their STIs, it’s nice to meet people who share these problems and experiences; the burden of shame, at least between partners matched through these disease-specific websites, is lifted, and that fact alone makes the sex all the better. (A common acronym in poz personal ads is “UB2,” which stands for “you be too”–as in, “respondents must share my STI status.”)

The justification for bareback serosorting is that since both partners are already infected with a given disease, the supposed “risk” of infecting each other is rendered moot. And if people are going to bareback anyway–it’s common wisdom in the gay community that condom-free sex simply feels better, and it’s assumed that many sexually active members of the community actively search out opportunities for barebacking–then they might as well do it with those who share their disease status, so as to minimize risk to the broader (disease-free) gay community. Many “poz party” promoters emphasize this health-conscious aspect of their decision to promote serosorting:

For decades, the issue of HIV Status Disclosure was one of silence, confusion and doubt mainly created on the fear of hate, rejection and in some cases DEATH (murder or suicide) – that was in the 20th Century. Today, the 21st Century has opened the doors of opportunity, acceptance, communication, awareness and HOPE as HIV+ people (gay, straight, man, women, young or old) openly and willfully disclose their HIV Status to family, friends, loved ones, co workers and sex partners. Since the mid 1990’s, HIV Status Disclosure for both HIV+ and HIV-negative people continues to be an acceptable behavioral change that  global society has understood to be vital in stopping the spread of HIV in it’s tracks. Without HIV testing and HIV Status Disclosure mankind can NOT physically break the cycle of new HIV transmissions – Serosort (HIV+ only) or Safe Sex Serosort ;(HIV+ 4 HIV+ or HIV- 4 HIV-).

So we can see how the issues of serosorting and barebacking are fraught with tension and disagreement over the limits of sexual freedom; should barebacking and HIV-positive pornography be legal? Who would be responsible for policing, say, mandatory condom use on gay porn sets? How could such requirements even be enforced in the first place? Would the policing of these kinds of sexual activities only push them underground, into dangerously unregulated situations? And is it right that, say, “bareback porn is given away as prizes at benefits for AIDS and other organizations”?

Add one more question to that unnerving list: what to do about “bug chasers“?

Bugchasing is a slang term for the practice of pursuing sex with HIV infected individuals in order to contract HIV. Bugchasers may seek HIV infection for a variety of reasons Bugchasers seek sexual partners who are HIV positive for the purpose of having unprotected sex and becoming HIV positive; giftgivers are HIV positive individuals who comply with the bugchaser’s efforts to become infected with HIV.

It’s difficult to avoid condemning the practice of bugchasing as reckless, dangerous, and just plain stupid. But should it be banned? Defenders of the practice argue that sexual activity between consenting adults should not and cannot be legislated. Moreover, some argue, it’s hypocritical to on the one hand protect gay men’s right to engage in sodomy and a woman’s right to choose whether or not she undergoes an abortion, and on the other hand seek to criminalize other consensual sexual behavior–namely, bugchasing and barebacking.

It’s a tricky question, and I’m not going to editorialize; in truth, I myself am still trying to figure out where I stand on the issue. But even though practices like serosorting and bugchasing may only affect a small percentage of the population, the questions they raise about sexual freedom and the legislation of sexual health seem more pertinent to the national conversation than ever.

Image via.

*Okay, so it seems as though some readers have taken issue with my comparing the decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy with the choice to bareback or “bug chase.” I’m not attempting to equate the two at all. For one thing, I don’t think anyone ever “wants” to get an abortion; it’s an incredibly difficult and painful decision that many people (myself included) believe is up to the pregnant woman, as opposed to a bunch of politicians in Congress. But while some young gay men feel the need to “bug chase” in order to find shelter and/or community, many testimonies from “bug chasers” I’ve found online imply that the decision to do so is voluntary and in the pursuit of what they view as erotic pleasure.

Rather, I think both abortions and activities like “bug chasing”–and the legal debates that surround them–center around the same question: “Who is in charge of <i>my</i> body?” In other words, the question as to whether it’s justified for the government to intervene in people’s personal and/or sexual decisions is common to both of these “issues.” Now, you might make the argument that whereas an abortion is a solely personal decision, activities like “bug chasing” pose a potential social health hazard. I don’t think this viewpoint is invalid. Just because I think these two things both center around the same question doesn’t mean they must have the same answer.

In any rate, if you disagree with the analogy, then you can ignore it. It’s not central to my post; I suppose I simply felt the need to “justify” the inclusion of this topic on Crasstalk, as ridiculous as that might sound, and was therefore attempting to tie serosorting and “bug chasing” to other things that have been discussed on this blog. The rather “anything-goes” nature of Crasstalk where most any topic is welcome without attempting to justify its relevancy to the blog’s audience is still a bit new to me.

Valentine’s Gay 2011: Meat And Cheese

My favorite version of the Valentine’s Day story is the one where poor jailed Val picked heart-shaped violet leaves and poked holes in them to send love notes to the jailer’s blind daughter, who was then able to see.

Well, as most of you know, I’m gay married to a cop and we’ve been together almost 8 years.  And after 8 years, I’ve washed enough underwear, listened to enough dirty jokes and moved enough coffee cups to the (goddam) dishwasher from the (f’n) sink to fill a warehouse.  Like most enduring relationships, it becomes stronger when you see your beloved for who he really is.  It’s hard to picture a knight in shining armor using a nose hair trimmer, but they all do.  Imagine if they didn’t! So I’m stuck with Cap’n, nose hair removal and all, and he’s a wonderful man who would do anything for me… except pick up after his own damn self.  He tries, but the gerbil on the wheel in his head gets distracted by shiny things on the way to the laundry hamper.  We fight about the socks on the floor, then he wraps two big arms around me and I realize that nothing bad can happen to me, ever again, and what was I thinking about and why is my shirt now on the floor with the socks?

Things like this ratchet up the difficulty of selecting a Valentine’s Day gift.  Cliches won’t work.

Cap’n Crocker is a man of particular tastes and not all of them are refined, which should make it easy, right?  No.  He loves tulips, so last year I got him 100 of them.  His allergic reaction was truly amazing.  His poor nose was like Victoria Falls.  Lovely!  They graced the desk in our condo’s lobby for 10 days.

The prior year I threw a Valentine’s Day cocktail party for just us.  I forgot that what I was using as a mixer for the Aphrodisia-tinis already had vodka in it.  We woke up at 3 AM, cotton-mouthed and fully clothed in the living room.  There was one candle still lit, and Edmund Pevensie (one of our cats) had indulged in the gravlax left on my plate and puked in my shoe.  Lucy Pevensie (Edmund’s sister) was looking at us with feline pity.  Romance – and cat barf – was in the air.

What to do?  Well, after wracking my brain, I came up with an idea.  Cap’n is a social butterfly at his precinct, and while he does go on patrol from time to time, he’s mostly in an open office with about a dozen other cops.   They just completed a huge project today, and cops love to eat together, so I sent a Valentine’s treat basket of cheeses, salami, fruit and crackers to Cap’n at the precinct to be delivered tomorrow.  The card?

Dear Mike, I hope you think this isn’t cheesy.  You can share with your friends or hide the salami.  They say you are what you eat, but don’t turn into a cracker.  You are a big fruit.  Love, Me.

He will be teased and pretend to be irked when his Commanding Officer grabs the card and reads it out loud in a Brooklyn accent, which could make a fortune cookie hilarious.  But he will be all happy that I thought of his friends.  And we’ll still go out for dinner on Sunday and make lurve.

But 8 years in, you have to get creative.

AIDS PSA: Does Fear Work?

I have very mixed feelings about this new HIV/AIDS PSA from the NYC Department of Health (warning: nsfw unless you work in an anal cancer research lab):

A lot of folks are up in arms about how the ad stigmatizes people living with HIV. Fear campaigns don’t actually encourage testing or prevention, they assert (without evidence).

I feel like there’s a generational disconnect, though, because while people over 35 or so probably have some memory of the worst years of the epidemic, very young guys do not. At all. The only message young gay guys have heard is about how AIDS is a manageable illness. But that’s not the whole story. The fact is, young gays are not using protection because they don’t think AIDS is a big deal, hence the HIV transmission rates for very young guys are shockingly high (such as an estimated 40% of young African-American men who have sex with men in NYC infected with HIV).

What do you think? Overkill? It reminds me of the cigarette ads with disgusting photos of cancerous lungs. Which actually do work, with me at least. If by work you mean nauseate.