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Partying on.

Thank you for your piece on the urban sex party phenomenon ["They're Peddling Death," August 29]. Sean Kennedy's research sheds much-needed light on a growing and troubling trend. I do believe, though, that it is important to get at the heart of motivation if we are to present effective alternatives for healthier decisions by young gay males. With respect to the HIV advocates and leaders in the prevention community who contributed to the article, I think it is a gross oversimplification to state that the practice of engaging in unprotected sex (anal or otherwise) is due to a need to seroconvert and get it over with, due to being part of a "down-low" mentality, or due to discomfort with condoms.

I myself came of age in the time of "gay plague" headlines. I have lived in the epicenters of D.C., New York, and Detroit, where I have trained others in HIV prevention education workshops. I know the facts about transmission completely. Yet I still crave the absolute beauty and connectivity that comes only with direct sexual contact. I know what I lose in intimacy in order to preserve my health. To pretend we (or those attending these parties) don't or won't miss it is folly.

Further, I am utterly surprised that this situation--condom-optional sex parties--is news to outreach workers in urban America. These events were going on upon my arrival in New York City 10 years ago! What's more, I attended a couple of them as an outreach worker myself and found that they welcomed not only the condoms and literature but, in one case, interrupted "festivities" to let us make a presentation about safer sex. As with so many issues we face, it might be unwise to marginalize and demonize people before providing them an opportunity to engage in dialogue about what it is we hope to change or address. These "entrepreneurs" are irresponsible, no question. But they could also be potential conduits through which we, as HIV educators and advocates, might be able to reach a young, urban audience that is dearly not getting accurate, up-to-date, and complete information on transmission through traditional channels.


Your report on the for-profit barebacking parties is a call to reflect on the values of our gay community. The argument for justifying the reckless, selfish behavior between two or several strangers--"consenting adults" who, for whatever reasons, decide to engage in unsafe sex--can only be based on the blind defense of their individual freedom. The cause for the self-inflicted harm for those who may be negative and the borderline criminal actions from those who willingly and irresponsibly pass the HIV may range from plain stupidity to intoxication, with layers of self-hate, maliciousness, and hedonism in between.

As a clinical social worker at an AIDS clinic, I observe daily that the consequences of such behavior come with a price tag we all pay, which is why barebacking is not simply a personal issue but a public-health problem as well. This is not about uninformed or repressed men of color behaving badly behind private doors. Sooner or later, their party is over, and the emotionally devastating reality of AIDS affects them as well as their loved ones. After people get infected and ill to the point of becoming disabled, it is society as a whole who "picks up the bill."

Yes, our individual freedom is extremely important, but it ends where our neighbor's begins.


San Francisco, Calif.

What bothers me most about the bareback movement is that these sex-crazed death peddlers are setting the gay rights movement back 50 years. What great ammunition this is for those who seek to prove that gay equates with immorality. Gay sex is not immoral. Deliberately seeking to get or give someone a fatal disease is. Perhaps the gay rights movement has done its job too well. By removing the stigma of being HIV-positive, the ad campaigns have created a false sense of fulfillment. Showing two muscle-bound guys playing volleyball on the beach and flashing HIV-POSITIVE in the background is the opposite of education. They should show instead the poor souls fighting for their lives in hospice beds, wasting away while their loved ones grieve. The gay rights movement better police itself quickly, before the political and religions whack jobs shine their spotlight on this suicide fad and use it as a tool to reduce gay rights and health care services.

MICHAEL SMITH New Orleans, La.

As a gay black man, all I could say was, Here we go again. Why must gay black men be demonized by something that has been happening for years, but because your reporters live in Disneyland, it's new and black men are to blame?

I agree that sex parties with barebacking are stupid in this time, but don't just point a finger and leave an impression it's gay black men. Just look at any of the Treasure Island Media videos and you'll see various white men doing the same thing, for huge profits. To add insult to injury, it's not often The Advocate has issues on the gay black community, and when it does, it's one of fear. C'mon!

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Article Details
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Author:Guess, Aundaray
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Sep 26, 2006
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