Saturday, December 1, 2012

The underworld of non-consensual, unsafe sex... and the actual people who support it

I seem to post to this blog primarily when I'm highly emotional, particularly when I'm frustrated with current events. This time around, I want to channel my frustration to better ends. Three thousand, two hundred seventy-five ends, to be specific.

[Edit 4-Dec-2012: I would like to make clear that while the acts described here are much more visible in the gay male community, they are certainly not confined to the gay male community. I've used nonspecific pronouns in a lot of the original post because of this aspect, even though I'm specifically calling out an informal organization of gay men. Further, this behavior can lead to transmission of more than just HIV, even though that was the original focus of this post.]

[Edit 5-Dec-2012: There is a discussion of this post with good, related insight on FetLife right now.]

December 1 is World AIDS Day, a time to raise awareness of the continuing risk of HIV infection, and awareness of the lifelong problems experienced by those who live with HIV/AIDS. This year, I wish to introduce you to one of today's most powerful threats to the successes of HIV prevention and research over more than three decades. Right now, as I type this, there is an interconnected, growing network of thousands of people who glorify unsafe sex, and on top of that, support tricking unsuspecting partners into barebacking.

Now, I must include a critical caveat: I am not judgmental of people who privately choose to engage in mutually consensual, less safe sexual practices, regardless of the reason. (My partner and I do this some of the time with each other, but never with anyone else.) I fully support personal free will, that one's body is his/her own to use as desired. I have quite a few friends who are HIV-positive, some who contracted it in the early years of AIDS itself, but it is not my place to judge them — rather, it is my duty as their friend to support them, in their lifelong battles to cope with the disease. It's continuing to live and fight for another day.

Like most of my posts, an emotional event triggered this outpouring. Last month, a good friend of mine, whom I'll call "Paul" to protect his identity (as this is a very personal story), seroconverted. He tested positive for HIV for the first time. Like most of us who have had multiple sexual partners over shorter time spans, Paul got tested regularly. He always used condoms for penetrative sex over the last ten years, and never engaged in oral sex with untrustworthy partners, or when blatant risk factors (e.g., open sores on mucosal membranes) were present. He was, for all purposes, a truly intentioned safer-sex practitioner. Being infected was one of those things that really should not have happened... but it did, and here's how:

A little over four months ago, Paul was tricked by a sex partner who slipped off a condom just before anal penetration. He was exposed to the full brunt of bodily fluids, without consent. While condoms can break if they are mishandled — statistics vary wildly, though tend to be in the low single-digit percents — in this case the evidence was quite clear. Paul saw the condom on the floor by the bed, with no appearance of semen in it. Further evidence of this deception was discovered in the bathroom, when seminal fluid (not just lubricant) was very obviously visible in the toilet bowl. What's more, the roughness of the encounter was also reflected via some blood in the stool, indicating that internal blood vessels were breached during sex.

This was, without question, a non-consensual act. A good friend of mine, while reading the rough draft of this post, pointed out that this HIV transmission wasn't from the innocence of naïveté, but from a deliberate act of rape. The top accepted and put on the condom, then removed it surreptitiously after the fact. The top provided a positive affirmation of trust, then broke that trust immediately.

To say that Paul was terrified by the discovery in the toilet would be a gross understatement. In the intervening time, he had sex with nobody else, and sank into a deep depression. At his friends' behest, he got tested about once a month three times afterwards, and it was the third test which broke the news: yes, he had contracted HIV. It took several friends and a psychiatrist talking him down from suicide to keep him with us in this world. One exposure is all it took to change Paul's life, permanently.

What's so heartbreaking about this story is that it was not an isolated incident. There's a movement afoot, hell-bent on making unsafe sex the norm in today's world of more dangerous STDs. It's this movement, and the people who associate themselves with it, called to account for their actions in this post.



[Note: Many links in this section are definitely NSFW, but they are informative to anyone wishing to know how to defend against this unethical practice.]

The act of compromising or removing a condom without the consent of one's sexual partner is colloquially known as "stealthing". This term was coined by one Mark Bentson, aka "IBlastInside", a militant advocate of bareback sex, who devotes much time to spreading the notion that barebacking is something to celebrate, something to be proud of. Bentson, a resident of the Atlanta, Georgia area, another man in Georgia, and one in the United Kingdom created an informal community for bareback sex and deceptive sexual practices called the Bareback Brotherhood (commonly abbreviated BBBH). It has its own website, but is also highly active via the Twitter hashtag #BBBH.

Bentson created a list of ten techniques to make it easier to trick one's sexual partner into falsely believing that a condom is being used properly. Unprotected sex when one's partner demands that a condom be used is in fact illegal in some countries; Julian Assange was famously accused of doing something similar with a woman in Sweden. However, this is legally ambiguous in most of the United States. (Of course, the culture in the U.S. is such that many non-consensual acts are never prosecuted, if a consensual sexual act had begun beforehand. We don't yet live in a society enlightened enough to accept that No means No.)

While Bentson is absolutely correct that barebacking is a personal choice, as I stated at top of this post, he takes that concept to a sociopathic conclusion. He uses ham-handed rationalization such as statistics about the major causes of death in the U.S. to justify bareback advocacy, conveniently ignoring that people are living longer with HIV but still experiencing the effects of the disease. Further, he says over and over that "I never say that I agree to use a condom", as if accepting a wrapped condom, opening it, and putting it on doesn't imply that the intent is for it to stay on through the sexual act. Not saying it explicitly, in his mind, means he never agreed to anything.

At the same time, Bentson expounds upon stealthing a 19-year-old man with his usual bravado, outright endorsing the deceitful exposure of young men to lifelong health issues without their consent. This is where BBBH changes from an already questionable platform of personal choice, to a mouthpiece for rolling back progress in fighting HIV/AIDS. As I've written before, there are a couple very specific things that I don't tolerate regarding HIV: concerted efforts to spread apathy about its risks, and pretense that the disease is not a problem.

While BBBH is not the only such community for barebacking advocacy — another one called BarebackRT is on the rise — BBBH is well-known in some gay male social circles. The informal organization, and Bentson, were profiled on The Healthy Bear blog in "Can Evil Like This Really Exist?" (which also calls this practice rape). That post includes very useful tips on how to avoid being manipulated into being a victim of stealthing; see also the followup post to it, which discusses Bentson's alleged "choice" argument.

As I browsed through profiles of self-described BBBH members, I couldn't help but tear up at those who claimed to be 20, 19, even 18 years old. Some of these even consider themselves bugchasers: they are currently HIV-negative, but actively looking to seroconvert through unprotected sex. Again, personal choice must be defended here, but this does lead to the question of how such young men came to have the attitudes they now express towards unsafe sex.

Have we learned nothing from the last thirty-plus years of AIDS research? Are we really at the point where a sizable chunk of the gay male community simply doesn't care? What sort of role models are these irresponsible people providing for the next generation, who are growing up with no hard-learned knowledge of the early years of HIV/AIDS?



So who are the Bareback Brotherhood, anyway?

In observance of World AIDS Day, I made the tough decision to call out BBBH's members, and close associates, explicitly. I'm taking a personal risk by doing so (and I'll probably be on high alert for my physical safety for some time), as I suspect this action is going to get many people irate. However, I can no longer point at this crazy movement as if it were some fuzzy, distant concept. It's time to name the names — and encourage those people, who are actually concerned about the health of their fellow humans, to distance themselves from Bentson and his associates.

Since Twitter is the most common place that BBBH members congregate, I compiled a list of accounts there which I consider, in my opinion only, to be either directly part of, or closely associated to, the Bareback Brotherhood. The latter category is likely to be controversial, but I didn't take to naming people as "closely associated" lightly. I spent many hours vetting thousands of accounts, their profile texts, and their following/follower interconnections before considering them candidates for inclusion on the list. (I go into detail about these criteria below.)

As of this writing, the list has 3275 entries, but it will probably continue to grow over time. It is available as a Google spreadsheet, and exportable to a plain CSV list (see File, Download as). I planned on making a Twitter API app that could scan a list of follows/followers for matches with this list, or offer bulk-blocking, but I was not able to get that done in time for this post. (I welcome any readers who would like to create such a web-app.) This endeavor may expand to encompass other social networks or media in the future.

Compiling the list was a heart-wrenching process, because eight people with whom I had been communicating for some time were also on it. Just to be sure, I went back and re-vetted all of those people in great detail, and yes, they were definitely appropriate for inclusion based on multiple factors. So along with the rest of the list, I blocked all eight of those users. I want to be more tolerant to everyone, but after my friend's encounter with life-threatening illness, I have had enough of the bareback advocacy culture.

It Must Stop Now.



How did I compile this list?

As I said above, this list was created based on my opinion only that the listed people advocate for unsafe sex. By "advocate for", I obviously include all self-avowed BBBH members — but I also consider people who are associated with a large number of BBBH members as tacitly approving of their stance on sexual practices. To make this more clear, here's some (but not all) of the detail on how this list came to be.

I took a raw set of candidate accounts from several sources:
  • Global searches of profile text for #bbbh and other specific keywords (a size-limited set of results).
  • Direct followers of BBBH's founders and a few other notable accounts.
  • Direct followers of a few accounts used to announce bareback "parties".
  • The "official" lists of BBBH's members maintained by its founders.
  • Some lists of users maintained by other notable accounts.

I then filtered the list of accounts through quite a few heuristics to pare the remaining not-explicitly-BBBH accounts down to only the most egregious of the bunch, including but not limited to:
  • Whether the account, if its number of follows was over 50, had a very significant number of its follows being to public BBBH members.
  • Whether the account was following three or more of the BBBH founders and official BBBH account, and a significant (but less so than the first criterion) number of other BBBH members. (Users filtered here because they were only following the official accounts are likely people keeping tabs on their activity.)
  • Whether the profile text or user ID contained obvious text intended to imply unsafe sex: examples include "cumdump", "teambb", "bbrt", "bareback", "raw sex", "hole breed"... among others.
  • Whether the account appeared in more than one user-maintained Twitter lists of bareback sex advocates.
  • Whether the account posted a notable number of tweets with the #bbbh hashtag in them.

Even after all the filtering, the results totaled over three thousand. The fight against safer sex has apparently gained a bit of traction. This is alarming, to put it gently.

By revealing these criteria for my list's construction, I'm probably going to make it easier for BBBH members to fly under the radar. However, as the same friend who read the draft of this post noted, that's a double-edged sword. The reduced visibility for BBBH caused by members going into hiding also means reduced visibility to younger, and admittedly more impressionable, men. I'm shining light on something very dark, that is creeping in towards some of the most vulnerable in the community.

Now, it's certainly possible that I made a mistake, even after going to these great lengths to filter the list to the bare bones. I'll accept that risk, and offer to remove accounts from it (by contacting me at guyn2gear@gmail.com). It is not my intent to list anyone who is not a public advocate of unsafe sex — but remember, if you're directly connected to a large number of self-described BBBH members, you are a part of the problem. It's time to distance yourself from people who openly associate with BBBH, starting with your own connections.



HIV/AIDS awareness is not just about knowledge of drug cocktails; it is also about advocating safer sex practices, always. Today's observance of World AIDS Day is about celebrating those organizations (here's a list for those of you in the U.S.) which are battling the spread of HIV/AIDS. This fight, to me, also means calling out those people who would undermine this progress. Chances are, a STD-awareness organization exists near you. Take the time to learn about it, and get involved if you can.

To those of you out there trying to recruit more people into barebacking, while the next generation of gay men are growing up amid the noise of your fallacious pride, consider yourself on notice. You will, eventually, be found and taught the error of your ways — or if that fails, hopefully ostracized. 



...Postscript: So that I don't leave you completely on a downer/angry note, here's a message from Lady Miss Kier (Kirby) singing the praises of safer sex:



Great thanks go to "Paul", who agreed to let me describe his story in detail; an anonymous friend who gave a very good critique of an early draft of this post; and Dr. George Forgan-Smith, whose blog posts are linked here.

26 comments:

  1. Good work Todd! :D
    Keep it up!
    I really hope more people will be aware of their actions.
    Plus some hugs and pats on the back from me :">

    ReplyDelete
  2. Replies
    1. Feel free, of course. A little more risk awareness is always a good thing.

      Delete
  3. Holy fuck. Great job at putting this out there and helping us all be more informed.

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  4. I liked this. I think your list has wonderful positive intent and I hope it accomplishes the goal of spreading the word and fighting back aginst people who do such horrible things.

    I do just want to point out that lists like this have a way of starting and turning into witch hunts and no one wants that, so please be careful (you to people reading this blog and posts) as you all continue the fight. -Dont think it can't happen because that sort of thinking is how it DOES happen.-

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  5. this post made me cry, I have been in a partnership with a gay man who contracted HIV and has no idea how, as that he plays as safe as any one I have ever known...it is devastating to see this is a trend, thank you for shedding light on it.

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  6. I do not support any group that promotes deceitfulness but the fact remains that ANYTIME you have your bare ass in the air waiting for another person to have sex with you then in my mind as an adult you have most definitely given full consent. ANY sexual relationship runs the risk of condom breakage and HIV infection. How anyone could compare rape with a person who has consented to having sex with another (condom or not) is beyond me. I think tricking people is appalling and disgusting behavior. However, for those of you who think that "The List" is such a great idea, stop for a moment and think how you would feel if someone put you on a list of that nature. Who appointed this person as judge, jury and executioner anyway?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The list is based on my opinion (which I've made crystal clear, yet I've still given criteria above to make the process much more transparent).

      Why list people at all? It's time to call out anyone who supports Bentson and his BBBH co-founders. There's no nice way to put it; even if many of these folks are not stealthing, they are endorsing the practice by associating with BBBH.

      In short, the list is an ultimatum to put up (distance oneself from Bentson and BBBH) or shut up (and continue to be listed). In a group of people who are spreading STDs to unwilling participants, trust me, I am not the "executioner" here.

      Delete
  7. The only problem I have with this post is the fact that you say your friend "Paul". Was tricked into a sexual act that was none consensual by having the rubber removed. I would like to know how you unconsensually have a rubber fully removed without. The wearer being aware that it was removed. with the fact that you litterally have to pull it away from the sexual organ. If it was removed and he was hesitant about it and still decided to engage in intercourse that is consensual im srry. I do not in anyway feel less for his situation, but that fact does remain I cant really see it being removed without him knowing. had you said his parnter had comprimised the condom buy tearing it poking holes in it before the start id agree with that not to say that your post is almost 95% correct this storie pushing none consensual sex bothers me. I also thank you very much for the above facts for protecting your self.

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    1. "Paul" was in the bottom (receptive) role; he was not the one wearing the condom. The top (the original wearer of the condom) is the one who removed it. To a bottom, this action is not necessarily detectable, given the presence of lubricant.

      This certainly does happen, and is actually quite unlikely to be noticed by the receptive partner until after the fact, unless he/she re-checks for the presence of the condom mid-act.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous are you so naive to think that one cannot remove a condom without being notices? Doggy style bottoms face in mattress of pillow is just one of a thousand ways it can be done. Either you are a novice to sexual acts or blissfully ignorant.

      Delete
  8. This is just so wrong. Your poor friend. I am all for consensual non-consent, but when one of the members breaches that trust and takes the consensual part out? That is just sick and disgusting.

    It seems a part of the movement of people who don't care for others. I have spoken to several sadists lately who bluntly told me that a safeword screamed is their starting point. How sick is that?

    Thank you for posting this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ... then they are NOT true sadists, IMHO - they are rapists who defile the name of the Marque and should be strapped to a cross and given a long & bitter taste of their own style of conduct... just sayin'

      Delete
    2. True point. Proper S&M may hurt — may even push boundaries — but it's still consensual.

      Delete
  9. Thank you so much for this post. My brother contracted HIV from anal sex that was supposed to be protected - he found out afterwards that the condom that was supposed to have been put on had not been. And while many people who contract HIV these days live a good many years, he did not - he lived a little over six years from diagnosis to death.

    The more this is written about, the better. A cure would be excellent - but preventing more infections, especially through stealthy non-consensual awful methods like that? Absolutely essential as well.

    xx Dee

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  10. I thoroughly agree with you about how despicable stealthing is... or anyone engaging in ANY kind of non-consensual sexual act. It is completely intolerable.

    My only concern about what you've done here is that you might be taking things to a level of militancy that is almost at the polar opposite extreme as what the BBBH and Bentsen are doing. By publicly listing these people, you could subject people to retribution, public humiliation, and potentially even worse. Anyone who thinks that there won't/can't be retribution towards these people is kidding themselves.

    Just because you've determined someone is affiliated with this group, it doesn't mean they're engaging in the psychosis that Bentsen is doing. You could be inadvertently libeling people and opening yourself to legal repercussions.

    Again, I don't agree with what Bentsen does in any way, shape or form, but I equally disagree with this type of vigilante retribution for people who may have done absolutely nothing wrong.

    Just my $0.02

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    1. Oh, you got it exactly right: The whole intent was to take the polar opposite extreme, and I did in fact want to humiliate members of the BBBH and their close associates publicly.

      There comes a point when it's time to call a cult a cult, and treat it as such. That means foregoing the nameless, hand-wavy denouncement of their practices like bloggers like Dr. Forgan-Smith and others have attempted. BBBH is no longer a small, organically mind-infecting entity; it is now a direct threat to healthy living.

      While stealthing was the one practice I called out in particular here, it's by no means the only unsavory thing being practiced by BBBH members: e.g., peer pressure (persuasion, recruitment); glorification of (typically anonymous) barebacking, and more.

      Legal repercussions? Like I said, the list comes from my opinion that these people are either members of the BBBH cult, or are so interconnected with it that they are enablers, tacitly agreeing with their methods. People who act as if it's not a threat absolutely should be ashamed of their connections to the BBBH. It's my hope that name-and-shame will get at least the latter group to cut their ties and make this cult wither and die as a result.

      Delete
  11. Protect yourself, if you're at risk (MSM with any kind of casual sex in your practices, no matter how safe): get on PrEP!

    http://www.manhuntcares.com/prep/

    ReplyDelete
  12. contact all of the advertisers on their website. clearly and calmly point out what's going on, and that they're part and parcel *paying for this group to spread their message and rape/infect people*.

    i've already begun sending these messages. i give each advertiser a week to respond to my message before hitting the streets (one being my home, castro street, in SF) to make anyone who carries their products aware of the situation and demand that their products be removed from the shelves and that the distributor and manufacturer be made aware of why it's happening. i will also use the dealer locator and other information from/about the vendor to ferret out any sources online for these products and make the same demands.

    their pages are chock full of advertising. i pretty firmly believe that most if not all of the advertisers (spunk lube? fucking YELP?) would be appalled at the connection and will take swift action. this will certainly be taken up first and foremost with the media buy aggregators, which is why the advertisers are probably unaware of each of their company's involvement with these sociopaths.

    a VERY good way to stop the spread of this horrifying shit is to cut off their funding. my bet is that even a very small campaign will make all the difference. i can't imagine that any of those companies will be interested in their ads appearing there, and would take action without threats. however, i'm coming out of the gates guns blazing because i need them to know that i'm very, very serious about this.

    i'd be interested in forming a mailing list to compare notes and share resources in this effort. if there is other interest, please indicate so via a comment to the article's author, or via his email, and hopefully he'll be willing to take it from there. i'd be thrilled if the author would take a lead in organizing the group, or even take over the effort, blog about it, whatever.

    like him, i'm afraid for my safety for my action on this, so i can't sit idly by. to help prove my identity as the originator of this post, i'm sending a copy of this text to the author via my gmail account a few minutes *before* i post this message. that way no one can pop up claiming to be me to collect information about who wants to work against these sociopaths to use against us later.

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  13. So because some of the members of this group advocate stealthing, you are willing to publicly shame others who don't simply because they are following this Twitter account? So how would you like someone to list your information in a public shaming witch hunt insinuating that you were a child molester because it came to light that someone who started a group you were a member of was found to be one? Who the hell do you think you are?? I have been having unprotected sex for the past 10 years. Still negative and have only ever had 3 STD's (cured with antibiotics). I get tested every 3 months (with the Early Test I might add), I am open and honest about my status and I provide test results to my sexual partners. If I ever got the chance I would probably put a bullet through Mark Bentson's brain for his disgusting selfishness. So why would you feel the need to publicly shame me if I were a member of a bareback club? I'm sure most of the members of this group only use it to find partners they can have bare back sex with, not to develop strategies about stealthing and tricking sex partners. You state earlier that you have no problem with consensual unprotected sex but then go ahead anyway and include those people in your public shaming campaign. I certainly hope for your holier-than-thou sake that someone doesn't judge your sexual proclivities as unacceptable and decide to publicly shame you as well. Oh wait, I guess the religious right has been doing that for decades

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    Replies
    1. The identification I use involves much more than following one Twitter account. I list my heuristics right here in this post. The fact remains, if you self-identify as a BBBH member, you are supporting Bentson and his agendas, no matter how much you may disagree with his methods.

      Delete
  14. Todd you make a great fiction author because this expose is nothing but a one sided view filled with all the right emotional elements like fearing for your safety? You only wish that people were that interested in you. But it certainly gets the interest of those types who will share anything like the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe without so much as verifying that it's true. And your post was successful in that aspect so congrats. But the rest of it is you taking the views of one guy Iblastinside and labeling anyone who used the BBBH hashtag as having those exact same views too, which is a lie! It's not nice to say all black people like fried chicken just because one does, so why should it be ok for you to say all twitter users who use the BBBH hashtag are into stealthing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The definition of "fiction" is something invented by the imagination or feigned. I have cited my sources with quite a number of hyperlinks here. If you're going to accuse me of falsifying anything, you'd better have evidence to back it up.

      Just as with my response to the previous commenter, if you identify with BBBH, you're supporting (implicitly, if not explicitly) the views and practices of its leader. That's on top of the fact that you're supporting the active spread of disinformation about the risks of unprotected sex.

      Sorry, guys, simple pontificating without evidence isn't going to get your message across -- that is, if the message is anything other than "I'm a BBBH member but I don't support the BBBH! But, but, but..."

      Delete
  15. THIS is a true public service, BRAVO!, Sir.

    THIS is what activism in your community is about, THANK YOU!, Sir.

    PLEASE follow up, keep followers of this item informed as you area able / as things develop.

    Been reading the lines at FetLife... quite interesting [what are Bread Crumbs ? i feel dense...] and stellar to see that community responding so profoundly & with love / support / apropriate outrage.

    Hope to see mote about this soon / forwarding to the sexually active folk I know & reading again myself.

    Thanks again,
    s999 @ Texas!

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  16. I found this post off a link of queerty a few weeks ago. Thanks for posting. I followed your link to the guy promoting this crap. I wanted to cry. I most likely won't be bottoming for anyone I don't really know. I haven't had unprotected sex in over 8 years but this scared me enough to get tested. This is attempted murder. I can't trust people after reading this. I normally blow a guy slide on the rubber and turn around. The idea that someone would pull it off never dawned on me. THANKS for maybe saving my life.

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  17. This is circulating fetlife now. Thank you for this article. I have in fact had this happen to myself and never realized there was a term for it. Nor that it was a common occurrence. Awareness is key. Thank you again.

    ReplyDelete