Urvaksh has never had it easy.
On his lifelong quest of finding the One™, the banker has jumped headlong into many relationships (and many more mistakes). There was the fitness expert who forced him to sign up for Krav Maga classes. The graphic designer who dragged him to rave parties. The lawyer who guilt-tripped him into attending his cousin’s wedding. Every man was an oversight, every decision was a compromise.
And then along came Surya. Like his name, he was the light at the end of a really long, dreary tunnel. There were no aching bones. No splitting migraines. No nosy second cousins. This surgeon was a breath of fresh air, and it helped that he was also rather attractive.
So when it was time to cover up his troops and make it exclusive, Urvaksh raced to the springboard and dived right in. With Surya the surgeon, there were many more Yes’s and very few No’s. It was a carousel of happy memories, and it didn’t make him feel dizzy.
When his friends asked him if he was sure (‘Aren’t you going too fast?’), Urvaksh told them that he had caught feelings the same way their relationship was progressing: at the speed of a whirlwind.
Over the next few weeks, the happy couple found themselves at many exciting places – art galleries, music recitals, jazz bars and on that one occasion, even the circus, until they found themselves in the bedroom.
‘Are you ready?’ Surya asked, after 40 minutes of fantastic foreplay. Urvaksh had never been readier.
But something didn’t feel right. Something was missing.
It was a condom.
Turns out Surya wasn’t the ray of light at the end of Urvaksh’s dark, dreary tunnel. He just wanted to find his way into Urvaksh’s dark, dreary tunnel. Without any protection.
Urvaksh hesitated, as he saw his carousel come to a screeching halt. Was barebacking the first step in baring your soul?
For the uninitiated, barebacking is a gay term for the act of having anal sex without a condom, which means it’s slang for unprotected (but not uncharted) sex.
‘It feels so much more intimate, so much more pleasurable – isn’t this a true test of our monogamy? You just have to trust me! ’ Surya had argued, when Urvaksh had walled up (no pun intended) and pulled his pants back on.
‘Everyone’s doing it, all my friends are doing it!’ soft-spoken Surya had yelled, ‘Why don’t you stop being so paranoid and learn to live a little?’
But unfortunately, that’s exactly what Urvaksh planned to do. Live a little (longer). In a fit of anger, Surya stormed out of the room (and eventually, out of Urvaksh’s life). For a man without any red flags, this one had swooped in without a safety helmet. Urvaksh thought it all very ironic.
But when did barebacking become so…commonplace?
Urvaksh thinks it happened when he was flitting between multiple dating apps, trying to find his elusive Mr. One™. Or maybe it happened earlier, when treatments for HIV/AIDS made the disease more manageable, and convinced many gay men not to think of semen as potential life-threatening poison. Suddenly, unprotected sex wasn’t a novelty for LTR-oriented couples; it was a trend for the masses.
With the advent of PrEP – or a pill that makes it difficult (but not impossible) to contract HIV – it’s no surprise that more queer men are exploring the world, unprotected. PrEP is definitely shifting the boundaries of what is forbidden and what is not.
Kush, a sales associate for a big pharmaceutical company, would agree. After clocking in long hours in a windowless cubicle, this is his one chance to stop thinking and just go a little wild and lose control. He feels unshackled and unrestrained. He feels free.
‘It’s the thrill of having sex without a condom,’ he grins, ‘Have you ever felt an orgasm skin-to-skin?’
I sigh, and shake my head. His grin fades a little. But what about safety, I ask? Are those 17 minutes worth of pleasure worth contracting syphilis?
It’s all about trust, he explains. You can’t just bareback with anyone – even though most men are on PrEP; it’s all about finding the guy who gives you the right vibe. But since when have men tattooed their sexual status on their faces, or more importantly, been truthful about the STIs they may (or may not) have?
Kush has been on PrEP since 2017. He’s always believed in personal accountability and responsibility for his own health. The strapping man tells me that he’s open and upfront with all his sexual partners (of which there are multiple), from his sexual status to his dislike for condoms. So he’s got it covered. I think it’s all very ironic.
But what about syphilis? Or gonorrhea? Or worse, genital herpes? Last I checked, they didn’t need a memo to come visiting. Education regarding STIs in the country has always been a sore spot (to put it mildly) – quite like the symptoms of many of these STIs themselves. And yet, the number of people who find unprotected sex with a stranger ‘exciting’ is highly disconcerting. It is your choice, yes, but you need to make sure you have all your facts in place.
Does that mean it’s advisable to go barebacking?
Yes. But only when you are sure of your (and your partner’s) sexual health status, even if you’ve been in an extremely fulfilling monogamous relationship for half a decade.
Until then, use a condom.
–Illustration by Amrai Dua