Being IML - January 2004

John in Santa's spanking grotto, December 2003
Spanked by Santa at the SM Gays Christmas Party, December 2003. The things I do to raise money for the Spanner Trust!
Photo credit: Dave Harris

Happy New Year to you all!

Looking back over the last six months of travelling a couple of things stand out. The first is how prevalent HIV and AIDS still are in our communities, and how leatherfolk are raising money for AIDS services in every city I visit. The second is how open we are about fucking without condoms (also known as "barebacking"). The same bars which stock sex education material in the entrance lobby are playing barebacking videos inside the bars, some sex shops ONLY stock barebacking videos, I've seen barebacking videos in contestant auction baskets and people proudly proclaim in their internet profiles that they are only looking for bareback sex.

What's going on? Someone who joins the leather community now could be forgiven for thinking that bareback sex is the norm. One of the bareback leather-porn videos said on the back "If you want to see REAL men have REAL sex then you'll buy this video!" At times I feel like I'm in the minority, by insisting that I would only fuck with a condom (also known as "safer sex").

There are as many reasons why people bareback as there are people who have sex. I've referred to this subject in earlier columns but let's be explicit. Here are just a few of the reasons:

As a titleholder what's my response to this?

First of all I'm glad that barebacking is out of the closet. It's very difficult to discuss a taboo subject. If the safer sex message is failing we need to find out why by talking about the subject honestly, openly and without judgement. Although there was a lot more pressure ten years ago to practise sex only with condoms, there were also a lot of guys keeping "guilty secrets" that they'd had unsafe sex. It stopped them from going for an HIV test or getting any support from the community.

Secondly I'm against the message that "we must all use condoms all the time". For a start we've seen that that message doesn't work, in the same way that "just say no to drugs" doesn't work. People have reasons for doing what they do, and unless you're willing to engage in debate you can't expect anyone to listen to you. I prefer to promote the messages "Informed Consent" or "Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK)", which encourage people to know their HIV status, know the risks of what they're doing and then make informed choices about what they want to do.

Thirdly, I know that as a titleholder I have very little influence on the community (thank goodness). Anyone who has been around for long enough to work out their status or make an informed decision to bareback is not going to care what I think or say. If I'm a role model to anyone it's probably going to be for individuals who are new to the leather scene, who perhaps don't know the facts about HIV transmission or who don't have the self confidence to negotiate the kind of sex they want. For that reason I'm uncomfortable when I see other titleholders engaging in barebacking in public or putting barebacking videos in their auction baskets. I think we have a responsibility to the new members of our community to set an example, to tell them that HIV currently has no cure, that fucking without condoms is still the most likely route of HIV transmission in our community, that sex with condoms can be fun/ hot/ horny, and that there is a lot of bondage and SM you can get up to without condoms that has no risk of HIV transmission at all.

Whatever you get up to in the next year, look after yourselves and the people you play with.

Yours in leather,

John Pendal
International Mr Leather 2003

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