In his speech at this year’s International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest and show, Executive Producer Chuck Renslow pointed to the rise in new AIDS infections—in the United States alone, someone becomes infected with HIV every nine-and-a-half minutes. He decried the increasing popularity of barebacking, unprotected anal sex that long has been known to be a primary method of spreading HIV infection.
It was an effective and affecting speech, but along with the applause came some puzzlement—because this year’s IML leather market, as in years past, was full of vendors promoting porn that showcased and glorified barebacking.
Renslow and the IML organization now have done the right thing, followed through, and—quite literally—put their money where their mouth is. In a letter to vendors, IML recently announced that the promoting of bareback porn will not be allowed at future IML leather markets.
This announcement has set off a firestorm of discussion.
Is this censorship? (No.) Will it drive barebacking underground, thereby making it more attractive because it’s forbidden? (I hope not.) Who is Renslow, anyway, to make this kind of pronouncement? (Continue reading.)
Renslow is a community leader who is saying what needs to be said. Barebacking is dangerous. It’s like riding a motorcycle (or a bicycle) without a helmet, or driving a car without seatbelts. You may be OK for a while, but then, something happens without warning that’s serious and possibly lethal, because proper protective measures weren’t used.
The situation with barebacking is the same as with smoking, obesity, drug abuse, and other public-health problems. People must be encouraged to make good choices that are ultimately life-affirming and life-enhancing, as opposed to bad choices that might feel good or exciting in the short run, but ultimately destroy and degrade life.
Role models matter here. Showing hot men having hot sex while using condoms sends one kind of message: Condoms are a part of hot, healthy sex. Showing hot men having sex without condoms sends another, more dangerous message: Condoms aren’t necessary—or worse, sex is hotter without protection.
I, like many other people, have been saying for years that barebacking, except for
seroconcordant, monogamous couples, is unsafe, insane, and a slow kind of suicide. Yet barebacking has continued. Maybe, when someone of Renslow’s stature takes this kind of stand, more people will listen, and the message finally will get through to many of them.
This is exactly what community leaders ought to be doing. I applaud Renslow and IML for having the courage and the willingness to take such a public stand, even when it seriously and negatively could impact the IML organization’s finances. This is what leadership looks like, folks.