Rubber Bounced

A gay man wonders: Are condoms bygone?

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A gay man has appealed to Slate sex columnist How To Do It with an unusual question: do gay men not use condoms anymore?

“What is it with queer guys insisting on never wearing a condom anymore?” the writer, identified only as Wrap It Up writes. “My Grindr message log is full of guys who ghosted or blocked after learning I wouldn’t bareback. They’re on PrEP, they say. What I don’t say is the last time I was cavalier about condoms, I ended up with herpes. Do these guys not remember the HIV crisis (still very much a thing)? Other STIs? Is the Venn diagram of anti-maskers and anti-rubbers a circle?”

How To Do It first offers a few observations before addressing the issue of sexual health.

Related: New, once-a-month PrEP pill shows success at trials

“Though the opening of your letter reads like a setup of a joke, I’m taking it seriously,” How To Do It replies. “Queer men’s abandonment of condoms in the wake of the AIDS epidemic has long been a point of debate and, in some circles, consternation. In public, this conversation is more than 25 years old, stretching back to the so-called ‘plague years,’ before the public availability of protease inhibitors in 1996 revised the trajectory of the epidemic, reducing death rates and turning HIV into a chronic condition instead of a death sentence for many living with the virus (who had access to the drugs, which remains an issue). Back then, this wasn’t a matter of remembering the crisis—the crisis was all around, defining queer life and death.”

How To Do It goes on to point out that as early as the 1990s, a significant-sized group of gay men reported rejecting condom use despite the ongoing threat of HIV. For these men, awareness of the spread of HIV was not the issue. Rather, they rejected condoms on the basis of tactile sensation–in other words, that sex felt better without condoms–and for emotional issues.

“People like having sex without condoms, and it is what they have done historically, hence the proliferation of our species,” How To Do It concludes. “It’s not a gay thing. What is a gay thing is the disproportionate responsibility to modify behavior as the result of a disease to which that community is vulnerable…I don’t blame them one bit for getting sick of worrying about getting sick.”

How To Do It then recounts the history of PrEP which the FDA authorized for the first time in 2012. It has since become widespread among gay men, leading to a wide reduction in new cases of HIV.

“You are right, at least, that there are other STIs,” How To Do It concedes. “Luckily, many people on PrEP are tested for them every three months to keep their prescriptions in good standing. That at least takes care of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. Hepatitis and HPV remain concerns (you can put herpes in this group, though I’m reluctant to wring my hands too much over a disease that has been made out to be a “sexual boogeyman”). I’d be interested in seeing the results of a survey that seeks to determine whether anti-maskers are anti-rubberers, but something tells me it wouldn’t be so illuminating.”

The columnist then notes that anti-masking has nothing to do with PrEP or reduction in condom use. Rather, anti-masking is linked quite directly to political stance, in particular support of Donald Trump. How To Do It also asserts that reduction in condom use is based on sound, medical science, whereas anti-masking is not.

“Anyway, you use condoms and that’s great for you,” How To Do It concludes. “The guys who don’t aren’t for you. Too many choices can be paralyzing, and what are hook-up apps but buffets of options? You can easily filter out the guys whose interests and practices don’t align with yours. And that, in the words of Martha Stewart (another at least part-time barebacker or so the existence of her daughter tells us), is a good thing.”

We happen to agree.