Background Men who have sex with men (MSM) remain disproportionately affected by HIV and sexual infections. 2010 saw the highest number of new UK HIV diagnoses, acquired predominately through condomless anal sex (CAS) with an estimated 67% acquired in relationships. To reduce risk taking behaviour, a deeper understanding of what influences MSM not to use condoms is required.
Aim To explore the opinions and rationales for CAS in HIV negative MSM.
Methods MSM were targeted, via gay press and leafleting, to complete an online questionnaire exploring issues around CAS. Data were collected from November 2010 to October 2011 following ethical approval. Responses from HIV negative MSM were reviewed and themed to quantify opinions and motivations for CAS in this cohort.
Results Data are drawn from a larger study. A total of 158 males met the criteria; 73.4% (n=116) did not identify themselves as a barebacker, the remainder did. There was a mean age of 35.4 (range 18–72), with the majority being White British (48.7%, n=77). All participants had engaged in unprotected anal sex. Barebacking was identified as contextual (eg, only in relationship) by 36 or behavioural (eg, I bareback) by 28 respondents. Relationships (79, 50%), trust (44, 27.8%) and infection screening (42, 26.6%) featured most frequently as personal reasons for engaging in CAS. Alcohol (63, 39.9%), physical sensation (58, 36.7%) and the thrill of the risk (53, 33.5%) were the most common opinions on why others had unprotected sex.
Conclusions CAS remains a complex issue and the definition of “barebacker” varies. Perceptions why others engaged in CAS have more negative connotations, however individual rationales for engaging in CAS predominantly focussed around love and relationships. Given the significant number of MSM that acquire HIV in relationships there is a clear need to maintain safer sex messages that are contextualised for those in relationships to observe the principles of negotiated safety.