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“The terrible thing in this world is that everyone has his reasons.”
Octave, The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir, 1939

I just finished a short story that I’ll be submitting for a call at the end of May. I’ve still got some editing to do of the draft, but I’m in a place where I think, or hope rather, that I’ll be able to get it done in time.

The story was inspired by some research I did into fear and barebacking culture awhile ago. I don’t know if you could look at this story and from the outside see that that the inspiration came from researching risky sex within the gay community, and specifically the barebacking community. It’s definitely got elements of risky sex in it, but the choices made do not seem to have much to do with barebacking on the surface.

Still, the question of what drives people to make choices that seem to endanger them in some way is one that I found fascinating and which informed this story. With that in mind, I’m going to share a few of the readings I found had the most impact on this story and on my ideas about fear. I am not in any way claiming that I agree with any of the statements below. They only served to inspire aspects of the story and nothing more.

1. Another of the men interviewed by Carballo-Dieguez, illustrates the points that Crossley makes about the power of barebacking as a transgressive act.Β It is exhilarating, it is the forbidden thing, it is like a drug, it is what you are not supposed to do, it’s getting away with murder. — Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers.

2. One of the ways that internalized homophobia may play out is an unconscious sense that the individual is unimportant, undervalued, and not worth very much, thus increasing his sense that he is expendable, and so too are the men with whom he has sex and from whom he seeks love and validation.

“What we have learned from Roland Barthes as from Michel Foucault and Oscar Wilde (albeit differently in each case) is that oppression inheres in those subjected to it as their or our identity, and must eventually be experienced and contested there, and never more so than when this subjection involves desire. Identity for the homosexual is always conflicted: at once ascribed, proscribed, and internalized, it is in terms of identity that self-hatred, violence, mutilation, and death have been suffered” (Dollimore, 1998, pp. 325-326).

Los Angeles writer and therapist Douglas Sadownick notes that “sex often is a matter for the unconscious”

One of the basic tenets of psychoanalytic theory that Freud (1920) formulated concerns sexuality overlapping with a dimension of negativity. Freud originally called it “the death instinct,” but is now commonly referred to as “the death drive.”

In short, taking the risks associated with barebacking is actually the way some gay men are trying to take care of themselves and meet deep and urgent needs and desires.

3. Tim Dean (2000) writes: “Most people can’t comprehend why anyone would risk death for a good fuck. From a certain viewpoint, unsafe sex appears as inconceivably self-destructive behavior. Indeed, while such health-threatening practices as smoking, drinking, and drug abuse must be indulged in repeatedly over a substantial period before they are likely to cause harm, HIV infection can result from a single unprotected encounter. Casual, anonymous sex without a condom seems suicidal” (p. 139). But the long-term effects of HIV infection on health are easily denied when faced with the immediacy of sexual pleasure, particularly if one is using drugs that fog one’s judgment. — Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers.

4. Vincke and colleagues (2001) found that “the incorporation of semen is an important value for many in gay cultures, a means of showing devotion, belonging, and oneness. Unsafe sex can therefore be an expression of positive values and of good feelings” (p. 58). There is something deeply erotic, profoundly connecting and, some feel, even sacred about one person giving his most private and special fluid, semen, to the other as a gift of love and a symbolic joining of two souls. The many levels of meaning and special significance that giving and receiving of semen has for gay men cannot be underestimated as a contributing factor to the rise in barebacking — especially in romantic couples,

Some have described drinking semen as literally ingesting the vitality, strength, manliness, or very essence of the man whose semen they either drank or received anally. There are men who feel that sharing their own or receiving the semen of a lover is a visceral as well as symbolic gift of love or a spiritual communion. There are those who revel in experiencing the esthetic and sensual pleasures in giving or receiving semen. By no means is this a comprehensive list. The meaning of sharing semen between two men is as varied as the men who engage in this act. — Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers.

5. Our minds are conditioned – that is an obvious fact – conditioned by the culture, the society, influenced by various impressions, strains, stresses, relationships, economic, social, climatic, educational, religious conformity, sanctions and so on. And our minds are trained to accept fear and escape, if we can, from that fear, never being able to resolve, totally and completely, the whole nature and structure of fear. So our first question is: whether the mind, so heavily burdened, can resolve completely, not only its conditioning, but also its fears? Because it is the fear that makes us accept conditioning.

So, can the mind actually ever be free of fear? That seems to me to be one of the most primary, essential, questions which must be asked and which must be resolved, for any person who is at all serious. There are physical fears and psychological fears. The physical fears of pain, having had pain and the repetition of that pain in the future; the fears of old age, death, the fears of physical insecurity, the fears of uncertainties of tomorrow, the fears of not being able to be a great success, achieve and so on, not being somebody in this rather ugly world; the fears of destruction, the fears of loneliness, not being able to love or be loved, and so on; the conscious fears as well as the unconscious fears. Can the mind be free, totally, of all this? And if it cannot, then such a mind is incapable, because it is distorted, it is incapable of perception, of understanding, of having a mind that is completely silent, quiet; it is like a blind man seeking light and never finding light, and therefore inventing a ‘light’ of words, concepts, theories.

So how is a mind which is so heavily burdened with fear, and with all its conditioning, ever to be free of it? Or must we accept it as an inevitable thing of life? – and most of us do accept it, put up with it.

So, now what shall we do? How shall I, as a human being, and you as a human being, be rid of this fear, the total fear, not a particular fear, but the whole nature and structure of fear? — To Be Human, J. Krishnamurti

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9 thoughts on “Fear & Barebacking Research

  1. I’ll be very interested in the discussion this leads to. I’ve been trying to figure out how realistic it is that characters are as assiduously safe as they are often portrayed in contemporary m/m books.

    1. I would love some discussion of it, but I doubt it will lead to much. πŸ˜‰ My blog just ain’t a happening discussion place. I hear you, though, re: the scrupulous and constant safety of characters in books. I think that it’s a question of political correctness and a kind of “chilling” factor that our genre puts on authors. It’s a very visceral topic and people don’t want to be accused of encouraging risky behavior–even if what they might portray could be more realistic behavior.

      What I found most fascinating is the acknowledgement that on so many levels, cultural, spiritual, subconscious, and conscious, the exchange of semen is charged with meaning and that by taking that away from a set of people, basically forever and without any empathy for other choices, this set of people eventually rejects that censure for the primal meaning they want to experience for themselves.

      As someone who used condoms for years and years and years and no longer uses them anymore, I can relate to the whole intimacy and even “hotness” factor of semen exchange, and I admit that I’d be disappointed if something happened in my relationship where condoms became a requirement again. I’d feel I lost something quite special, honestly.

      I also fixated the idea that fear might enhance the pleasures, that the risk itself amplifies the already existing carnal and primal meanings attached, and might act upon the brain in such a way to make the pleasure profound and possibly escalate it. I thought that the psychology of fear came into play, too, and how one eradicates fear by throwing themselves on the fire of fear entirely, a leap of faith that is possibly entirely self-destructive, but irresistible.

      1. Interestingly, it seems to be the actual gay male authors in our genre who portray such things more realistically. There’s barebacking in Brandon Shire’s “Afflicted” duology–with an escort, no less. I’m finding my characters wanting to go the more realistic route lately and cringing because I’m afraid I will be crucified.

        And yeah, I agree, it is very powerful and you can definitely see where there would be a backlash against condoms, despite the risk. I mean, it’s really quite awful to think about it, that you have to go into sex from a default position of mistrust. It’s smart, but it’s also very impersonal.

        1. I think the gay male unicorn writer of m/m romance can get away with almost anything. I’ve seen it in fandom and in professional m/m now, too. In this case, he’s getting away with something good. I’d like to see more diversity and some exploration of realistic choices like that without the automatic condemnation and educational moment attached to the riskier choice. Like, it’s a given it seems if you read about guys in a m/m romance having condomless sex then they’ll either be in a committed relationship, have totally talked about their status first, or you’re looking at an HIV scare story. OR at the very least, someone must scold them for doing something so risky. I think in the real world there are more possibilities than that. I mean, I know someone who has had three abortions. She’s a very smart woman. She knows how condoms work. But she gets in a situation with a guy and…three times now. So, I think that with gay men there have got to be incidents like that, too. That risk gets overshadowed by *something* else, and they go for it. Not all of them need to end up with HIV scares or scolding friends or nervous waits at the doc’s for their test results. A good number of them, maybe, but not all of them. And while my friend got pregnant all three times, there are women out there who make the same choices she did and didn’t get knocked up or sick. Um I think I’m rambling? I’m tired. And rambling. πŸ˜›

          1. I don’t think you’re rambling.

            From the reviews on GoodReads, at least a few people complained about the condomless sex in the Afflicted books. Shire took the approach that we’ve discussed here, that it was a power and intimacy thing. I mean, they actually took OFF the condom midway through. Although the BFF did read the MC the riot act when she found out. Which also felt realistic because hell, if I had a friend who had unprotected sex with a prostitute? I’d probably lecture, too.

            In one story I’ve written now that is awaiting acceptance (the one you read a chapter to this weekend) the situation comes up where the condoms aren’t there and the character just chooses not to make an issue of it and keep going. I have another scene like that in another story I’m working on where the characters just say “the hell with it” when it comes down to a choice between breaking the moment or continuing. I think that’s realistic. But I also think I’ll catch some flack for it.

            1. You might catch some flack, but maybe the flack will bring about controversy, which will make people talk about you and your books, and ya know what they say about that kind of thing. Sales! πŸ˜‰

              In the one that I wrote which came out of this research and which I hope to submit at the end of May, there is barebacking, but it’s after doing something so much more insane and risky that it’s just sort of like a non-issue really. It also makes sense from the big picture standpoint of the reader who gets both POVs. I’m not sure what people will make of it. I mean, the situation itself is so intensely risky that to use condoms in the middle would almost be hilarious. Like, whoa, I’ve serious stepped off the cliff of fear here, but, hey, midway down this drop let’s pause for some safety! It just can’t be done.

              In the fairy tales, we’ve skipped them entirely because, ya know, fairy tales. Ain’t no STDs in fairy tales, yo. πŸ˜‰

              In my other books, they are used/addressed as fit the characters. Which means, for the most part, they are used or discussed. But I think there are situations where they wouldn’t be and it would be okay. Authors aren’t required to portray moral situations in their books. I portray a lot of things in stories that no one should ever do or think are okay. Yet this whole condom thing is like a big fat red herring. Prostitution? Okay, but wear a condom! It’s like the person is already doing this seriously high risk thing–sex with a stranger, prostitution, the mystery event in my story–but the m/m audience balks if the condom isn’t there, and why is that? Is it all that 80s sex=death stuff mired in our psyche? Or do we actually have a responsibilty to portray only smart sex? I mean, we can write a story from a murderer’s POV but stick that murderer in a gay sex scene and that condom isn’t debatable!

              1. Yeah it’s a tricky question. I mean, we often feel socially obligated to portray other things responsibly, not to stereotype minority characters or use plot devices of serious real world shit like rape irresponsibly and in ways that trivialize them, so I do think most of us feel a certain sense of requirement to portray things in the “correct” way, but realism suffers and the correctness begins to feel trite and cliched, and reading it you begin to roll your eyes and think, “yeah, that would never happen.”

                And yes, writing the Highland story was nice because it was a total non-issue!

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