Semen Exchange and Emotional Connection
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. 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, as will be examined in Section 2 of this book. Early in the second decade of the AIDS epidemic Odets wrote, "Now that a decade of prohibition has made semen exchange relatively unusual and 'special,' it has become all the more powerful and meaningful" (Odets, 1994, p. 432). Obviously, what it means to give or receive semen varies from one gay man to another. 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.
The Psychology of Peer Pressure
Since attempts to satisfy sexual desire that go beyond masturbation necessarily involve interacting with one or more people, attempting to categorize an individual's motivations for barebacking as either being predominantly intrapsychic or predominantly interpersonal creates an artificial distinction that grossly oversimplifies the dynamics at play. As Bancroft et al. (2003) point out: "After a period of focusing on education about safer sex, there is now increasing attention being paid to situational and individually oriented factors that may help to explain high-risk behavior" (p. 555). Bay-area psychologist Stephan Morin writes, "The normalization of the term 'barebacking,' combined with media attention and community-level discussion about it, have contributed to the perception that the behavior is widespread in the community, creating a [new] social pressure to conform" (Morin et al., 2003, p. 357).
Recent research finds that men who forego using condoms feel there has been a decrease in social supports for staying safe as well as a shift in community norms toward increased acceptance of unsafe sex. In effect, they feel some peer pressure to bareback (Morin et al., 2003). The shifting winds of the gay sexual culture have a huge impact on members of a minority group that is partially defined by sex and desire. As I pointed out in the previous chapters, accepting, internalizing, and adopting sexual norms are part of most gay men's core identification as gay men. Thus in the immediate aftermath of the onset of AIDS, the community norms for sexual behavior shifted from the anything-goes realities of a pre-AIDS world to adopting safer sex, which allowed many men to remain sexually active. Safer sex and condom use were viewed as core elements of gay pride and as part of the glue that bound the community together. Currently, with the waning of the most obviously horrific aspects of AIDS, the sexual status quo is once again in transition, but this time away from the standard of safer sex, as the pendulum swings back in the direction it had been moving prior to 1982.