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© Ed Marshall
Posted: Tue Dec 8 2009

The HIV charities state their position on 'barebacking'. Photography by Ed Marshall

Two weeks ago, in the run-up to Worlds Aids Day, Time Out's Gay & Lesbian Editor Paul Burston called for clearer safer sex messages to help stem the rise in HIV infection rates among gay men. One concern was that bareback porn videos and websites were helping to normalise and even fetishise unprotected sex, and that younger gay men in particular were often woefully misinformed about HIV. It was also suggested that HIV organisations weren't clear enough about 'barebacking'. This week, we let the charities have their say. Our questions were: Does your organisation have an explicit view on barebacking? How do you get this message across, and do you think it's adequate? Here are their answers…

GMFA
'Bareback sex is the most common way that gay men pass on HIV, which is why condom use is at the heart of our HIV prevention work. Our position, as stated on our website, is that condoms are the surest way to protect against HIV infection.

'Some gay men who have bareback sex try to reduce their risk of catching HIV with other methods, such as only being a top (ie, active) or only sleeping with men whom they believe have the same HIV status. It's important to provide accurate information about such strategies, however our position is that these methods are not enough to prevent exposure to HIV and we do not recommend them as a strategy for staying HIV negative.

'Condom use is clearly advocated throughout our work, which includes our website, booklets, postcards, groupwork, and our magazine for gay men. Our aim is to provide accurate, honest and accessible information and we work with some 200 volunteers, most of whom are gay men, to achieve this. However there is no single campaign or message that will work equally for all gay men. We continue to explore new ways of reaching gay men, in particular young gay men, and communicating the seriousness of HIV infection and the importance of maintaining safer sex.'
(www.gmfa.org.uk/ 020 7738 6872)

National Aids Trust
'Bareback sex carries significant risk of HIV, so at NAT we always recommend using a condom. With one in 20 gay men in the UK living with HIV (one in ten in London), the chances are that most gay men will have sex with someone with HIV at some point and condoms remain the best way to protect yourself and your partner. As a policy and campaigning charity, we don't run health promotion campaigns ourselves, but we do campaign for more effective HIV prevention and we believe condom use must be a central part of that.

'One of our partnerships is with Men at Play, an adult website that always promotes safer sex and condom use. What is great about Men at Play is that they show how using condoms can still be sexy.

'HIV is preventable, but with over 2,700 gay men diagnosed last year, it's clear more needs to be done. There's a real need to step-up education about HIV and the importance of condoms, especially among young gay men.'
(www.nat.org.uk/ 020 7814 6767)

Terrence Higgins Trust
'People who bareback need to know the risks, even if both partners have HIV. Hepatitis C rates are rising fast amongst positive gay men, as is syphilis. If you're positive, Hep C can be as devastating as HIV, and hard to treat. At THT we talk constantly with gay men about the risks of Hep C and other STIs. We've run campaigns reminding them not to make assumptions about whether someone has HIV. We work with saunas to help them provide information, as well as condoms. And for 25 years, in as many different ways as we can, we've been reminding people that using a condom is the best way to prevent HIV.

'But we know we need to do more. Young gay men in particular, who've been let down by sex education in schools, need and deserve better information. We need to talk across the community about barebacking and risk. Getting HIV or Hep C is not “hot”. But it's not just about HIV organisations. We all have a responsibility - bar owners, the gay press, people who make porn, and every one of us - in working to beat this virus. So thank you for starting this debate. We welcome it.'
(www.tht.org.uk/ 0845 1221 200)

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