Since the emergence of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, the sexual practices among bisexual and gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) have been of concern with respect to the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A great deal of resources and campaigns have been directed at encouraging gay and bisexual men to use condoms and other safe-sex practices as a normal, regular part of their sexual relationships.
Unprotected Anal Sex
Whereas some activists and health professionals have raised concerns about a resurgence of unprotected sex among gay and bisexual men, energy has focused on cautioning against “barebacking” – a term usually used to refer to anal sex without the use of a condom. A recent survey of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has revealed that, among heterosexual women, less than one-quarter (23%) reported using protection during anal sex, compared to the majority (61%) of gay/bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.
A Cause For Concern
In light of these findings, health professionals have emphasized the importance of using safe-sex practices regardless of one’s gender and sexual orientation:
Anal membranes are easily damaged during sex, facilitating the spread of infection. Past studies suggest that anal exposure to HIV poses 30 times more risk than vaginal exposure. But the New York City findings suggest that women are less likely than men who have sex with men to use condoms during anal sex. The figure is just 23%, according to the new report, compared to 61% among men who have sex with other men.
It is important to recognize that various forms of birth control, like “the pill,” do not protect people against the transmission of STIs. It may be the case that many heterosexuals engage in vaginal-penile relying solely on birth control to protect them in general, and thus fail to take additional precautions when engaging in anal sex. In either case, whether oral, vaginal, anal, or even non-penetrative forms of sex, one should be aware of the risk for the transmission of STIs among other consequences of unprotected sex and take the necessary steps to protect themselves (e.g., regularly using condoms).