The Ugly Truth About the Bareback Brotherhood

I came across the #BBBH hashtag on the posts and bios of some guys who follow me on Twitter, and I didn’t think much of it at first. One day, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to investigate. What I found turned out to be shocking and disgusting.

The Bareback Brotherhood is an online movement that claims to be a social group of men worldwide who believe that raw, unprotected sex is a natural and legitimate choice, and their members should “Fuck more. Fear less. Regret nothing”.

Obviously, the notion of barebacking is not new to me, and while I do not engage in it myself, I have never judged people who wish to do it, and it is up to the discretion of two consenting adults who would engage in it. The problem I have with the Bareback Brotherhood is that it is promoting irresponsible behaviour though channels that would appeal to young, insecure and impressionable gay men.

The Brotherhood says that bareback sex has been demonised and marginalised, but this is for a good reason. While many sexually transmitted diseases are treatable these days, there is still no cure of HIV/AIDS. I grew up in the 80s and 90s being bombarded with health warnings and messages about the dangers of catching HIV and how it is basically a death sentence. Those warnings certainly helped, and with better public awareness, the increased use of condoms and safer sex practices, HIV infection rates dropped to its lowest around the late 90s and early 2000s. Alarmingly, this has started going up again in the last decade, particularly among younger people who’ve received far less of the safe-sex message. The BBBH isn’t helping by encouranging casual unprotected sex, with its strong drive using social media. They to have a big presence on Twitter and Facebook as well as their own website. This gives an ominous new meaning to ‘going viral’.

On their website (which I refuse to link to), they’ve got a list dispelling ‘myths’ about barebacking, and thus justifying their existence, all of which are just hogwash. Lame excuses like claiming it’s a ‘lifestyle choice’ and comparing it to drinking, smoking and eating junk food, all of which pose certain risks to our health. While it may be true that smoking kills more people than AIDS, you’re also more likely to die from smoking than skydiving, but you wouldn’t go skydiving without a parachute, would you? You can also choose to stop smoking but you can’t just stop having HIV whenever you like. So much for ‘choice’.

One of the scariest things about this movement is the endorsement of stealthing. From their own “Top 10 Tips for Stealthing” page:

“The act of stealthing or a stealth fuck is somehow assuring that it appears as “safer sex” to one party involved in the fuck but, in fact, the other party has conspired to assure sperm will be deposited in the ass of the bottom.”

This is outright deception and breach of trust of the partner. They even go as far as describing ways to ‘stealth’ successfully, including deliberately weakening and damaging condoms, using specific formulations of lube that look and feel like cum in a spare condom as proof that they ejaculated in it, and ways to distract the other guy from their insidious actions. If HIV is actually transmitted intentionally by the stealther, this is actually a criminal act in many countries.

The Bareback Brotherhood claims to be “a group without judgment and with mutual respect for all, no matter sero-status”. Yet they insult us by calling us ‘Condom Nazis’, and that ‘plastic is terrific for storing food or protection on the pitch’ (even though most condoms are made from latex). They have no respect for our choice to use condoms, and how can I have any respect for anybody who is going to deceive and force someone else into their misguided, deceptive, and self-deceptive beliefs against their will (dare I say, like the Christian right, who also happen to condemn the use of condoms), and most likely while in a compromising position.

I wonder how many of the BBBH members are HIV positive ‘giftgivers’ (I really hate that term) looking for HIV negative ‘bugchasers’ who are purposely seeking out to be infected with HIV, so that they can continue having unprotected sex. Some of these guys would even consider seroconversion to be a ‘relief’ as they no longer have to constantly worry and be diligent about their actions as they are now part of a ‘club’ where they no longer need to consider safe sex. This is a myth, there are still plenty of other STIs that need to be avoided, and if someone is already HIV positive, this can seriously complicate treatment. This is a very twisted view and a form of self-harm, besides being irresponsible to themselves and the guys they have sex with.

Drug research has advanced to a point where HIV is not as life threatening as it used to be. While there are many people successfully ‘living with HIV’, it is not a walk in the park. Being HIV positive involves frequent health checks and tests, and the currently available treatments often have uncomfortable side effects, which require yet more drugs to counteract. The cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs aren’t perfect – they have to be tuned to the individual, and they don’t work indefinitely. They need to be ‘re-tuned’ when viral load or symptoms return, and they are now known to promote the development of new, drug-resistant strains of HIV.

While not all Bareback Brotherhood members are stealthers, nor are they all HIV positive, it gives the impression that such a disgraceful act as stealthing is okay, and is even condoned by this cult-like group. All this just for the thrill of the chase and the selfish satisfaction of cumming in someone’s arse against their will or knowledge. Is this some kind of alpha male dominance thing? Insecure men wanting to mark their territory by ignoring all protocol just to have it their way? The website has a whole section of blog posts contributed by members and editorialised ‘if needed’ on stealthing, and one recent piece entitled ‘San Diego Top Stealths His First Bottom’ in particular made me sick in the stomach.

Being paranoid of being infected with HIV or other STIs, I always insist on using condoms, and I do not ever want to be a victim of stealthing. Yes, ‘victim’, as it is non-consensual, akin to rape. Knowing that there are people who might actually attempt this makes me feel even less inclined to engage in casual encounters, cementing my views on how I would prefer to get to know someone well before even taking my pants off. Instead of being ‘limited’ by the use of condoms, I find it liberating because I am able to have control and protection of my health. Besides, I do not have a problem with being covered up in rubber.

BBBH founder Mark Bentson’s opinion on HIV status disclosure is extremely misguided and it is never okay to lie or not disclose your HIV status if asked. For someone who claims to be intelligent, he has some very sick and twisted ideas. Barebacking in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it remains the right of the participants to make a well informed decision. Lying or telling the other person what they want to hear is not an acceptable way to get what you want. There certainly is a sero-bias amongst gay men, but this is deliberate misdirection of the point and there are other ways to tackle the issue of acceptance and decriminalisation of being diagnosed as HIV positive. Throwing away all care and responsibility only gives more opportunities for the virus to spread and mutate, delaying the search for a cure.

Mark, his cohorts, and his 2000+ and rising followers are spreading misinformation and a dangerous message to gay men everywhere, that barebacking is somehow safe again, and we should embrace our natural instincts, but in doing so, they are just be undoing everything we’ve achieved in the last three decades to get us to this point where the pandemic is at a manageable level and the hope that we may one day eradicate it.

As Chris quite rightly pointed out – “This entire discussion would be somewhat moot in a world where HIV doesn’t exist. But it does.”

The actions of the Bareback Brotherhood are arrogant and selfish, very much like a petulant teenager engaging in high risk, attention seeking behaviour, and in spite of all rational thought or concern for their own long term health, or that of others. In fact, it pretty much ticks most of the diagnostic boxes of psychopathy. Mark Bentson is creating controversy for the sake of drawing attention to himself, feeding his egotistical self-esteem, spreading lies and putting lives at risk.

If you belong to the Bareback Brotherhood, I hope that you have a long, hard look at yourself and realise that this mindlessly selfish and sinister group is not advocating a simple right of choice, but a practice that is ignorant, irresponsible, and has serious repercussions. If someone you know (in real-life or Facebook friends, Twitter followers) has #BBBH in their profile/bio or frequently uses that hashtag in their posts, challenge their reasons and their understanding of what they think it really stands for, or just remove/block them outright as they don’t deserve the visibility they seek.

Finally, I would like to bestow the Darwin Award to Mark Bentson and hope that he will ‘breed’ himself out of existence, and all his #BBBH followers along with him.