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Thursday, December 1, 2011

On World AIDS Day, No Talk of 'Barebacking' in San Francisco

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 3:10 PM


Today is World AIDS Day, and the men and women who have devoted themselves to fighting this pandemic -- from Bono to former President George W. Bush -- can justifiably take credit for a lot of progress.

The day has particular resonance in San Francisco, which was at the forefront of formulating a public-health response to AIDS in the U.S. in the 1980s. As Mayor Ed Lee said today on Twitter, the city "has been a leader in fight against HIV/AIDS since first cases 30 yrs ago. Today, we remember & recommit to finding a cure."

But are San Francisco officials and activists still fully committed to fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS? That contention was seriously called into question last month by SF Weekly staff writer Taylor Friedman. In a Nov. 9 cover story, Friedman revealed the curious indifference public-health authorities show toward increasingly popular parties devoted to unprotected sex, or "barebacking," among gay men.

As Friedman reported:

Historically, SFDPH has hesitated to take a firm stance against unprotected sex as it relates to the spread of HIV/AIDS, despite its being a main driver of the disease...

If the city government were to get tough on public barebacking -- abetted as it is by bareback porn, the Internet, and passive HIV/AIDS organizations -- it would not be the first time the city played Father Knows Best. Here in San Francisco, toys with McDonald's Happy Meals, sweetened beverages on city property, and cigarettes at pharmacies have all been banned in the name of health. But sex is sticky, and regulating how people have it, even more so.

One factor in the rise of barebacking has been access to life-saving drugs that treat HIV and AIDS, perhaps increasing people's tolerance for risk when deciding whether to have safe sex. In many parts of the developing world, even those drugs are still unavailable.

Nevertheless, as San Francisco rightly celebrates its achievements in fighting AIDS, it might be worth asking whether some level of complacency toward prevention efforts here has set in.

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Peter Jamison


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