Health Warnings May
Promote Unsafe Sex
By Gay Men
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Unsafe sex between men is becoming increasingly acceptable in the West and appears to be a backlash among the gay community against what are seen as monotonous health campaigns, research showed Tuesday.
Michele Crossley of Manchester University told a British Psychological Society conference in London that 'barebacking' -- premeditated and defiant unprotected anal intercourse -- was often a reaction to men being told not to do it.
``The term 'barebacking' suggests a shift toward something sexy or alluring,'' Crossley said.
She quoted examples from extreme gay literature which spoke of the practice of HIV-infected men offering to infect other people with the disease and healthy men seeking others to infect them with it.
``These are extreme examples, but 'barebacking' has become a new discourse in gay circles,'' she said.
``I would argue that this shift in the discourse is worrying, because unsafe sexual practices are becoming increasingly acceptable.''
Crossley quoted research that showed that of 6,000 gay men questioned in inner London, 38 percent said they had had unprotected anal intercourse in 1998 compared with 32 percent in 1996.
She also cited U.S. statistics on a significant rise there in unprotected sex among gay men.
Crossley put the trend down to a number of factors including complacency over safety issues particularly among young gay men, improved treatments for HIV and the view that unprotected sex was an expression of romantic love.
Health Warnings Often Counterproductive
But health education, and particularly the promotion of good health as a symbol of moral rectitude, were triggering a reverse reaction in Britain and the United States, Crossley said.
``This risk is increasingly taken as an aura of rebellion and excitement.
``This is the boomerang effect -- it is people reacting to a pressure to reestablish a lost freedom.''
Crossley said that health promotion among gay men must take this reaction on board quickly.
``I think that health promotion, by failing to understand this context, may be making things worse, exacerbating the problem.''
Gary Taylor of Sussex University said his research showed that the perception of HIV had shifted since the early 1980s, when it was usually associated with full-blown AIDS

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