PrEP: Tipping Point to Put the Sex Back in Leathersex?

  • by Race Bannon
  • Wednesday January 21, 2015
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Before you read any further, I know the title of this column is provocative. Obviously I'm going to talk about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), the once a day pill regimen to prevent HIV infection. I also seem to be implying that leathersex is lacking sex, and yes, in many instances I feel it is. But before you start making too many assumptions, please read on. Then decide for yourself if you agree with me or not.

This column was inspired by the recent PrEP Open House organized by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Liz Highleyman reported on that event for this publication and I recommend you read her article in the News section of this issue.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as HIV was beginning to decimate the gay men's community, many people began to embrace BDSM and other forms of kink as "safer" alternatives to insertive sex. It was a form of erotic connection that didn't require what many perceived as dirty, unclean, possibly never-safe sex.

I myself was part of the vanguard of people who felt that promoting such erotic alternatives would save lives. Perhaps it did. I hope so. I don't think many people would argue with this recounting of history. But that was then. The downside is that insertive sex was often demonized, if not overtly, then subtly and pervasively.

While the move away from embracing insertive sex was taking place within the leather community, what I refer to as the "pansexualization" of the scene began in earnest. During this time the various genders and orientations within kink, and BDSM in particular, began to mix, mingle and collaborate in unprecedented ways. This had many upsides, but for the gay and lesbian segments of that pansexual mixture it had what I see as a downside.

Heterosexuals in the BDSM and kink scenes had a longstanding habit of separating sex from BDSM play. The no insertive sex rule tended to be common at heterosexual play parties, promoted within their clubs and organizations, and was a key part of the code of conduct amid professional dominants that often played a significant role influencing the heterosexual BDSM world. They had their reasons and I'm not going to debate the pros and cons here, but I think those attitudes started to be adopted by non-heterosexuals as well, further marginalizing insertive sex amid the real fears of HIV.

I contend that the deep intimacy that sexual acts can bring about was sometimes sacrificed in the interest of safety. That adaptation probably made sense at the time, but I feel it might be time to reconsider our scene's underlying anti-sex messaging that still hangs around. It keeps some from more intimate ways of manifesting their kink as a natural extension of their insertive sexual desires.

In terms of HIV prevention, we have made tremendous strides. We have instilled an ethos of considering the health ramifications of our sexual choices. Risk assessment is now pervasive in our sexual thinking and is the standard mindset for experienced BDSM and kink practitioners.

We know that when HIV positive people are on treatment and undetectable, they are highly unlikely to pass on the virus. PrEP has been added into the HIV prevention arsenal and the effectiveness of PrEP has been scientifically proven.

The often unspoken reality that so many appear to wish to sweep under the rug is that most people do not use condoms consistently with many not using them at all. That's been the case for a long time. We also know from data that in terms of HIV prevention PrEP is superior to condoms when each is used alone.

Having the PrEP tool added into the HIV prevention options addresses the needs of that portion of the population who chooses to have condomless sex some or all of the time. Add in the regular STI checkups that are typically part of the medical protocol when prescribing PrEP and a strong argument can be made that the community, including the leather and kink community, is better served now that more people are starting to use PrEP.

Sitting around me at the PrEP Open House were leathermen who I knew are on PrEP. When I've chatted with guys like them on PrEP I have heard some rather remarkable statements:

"For the first time since I've been out as a gay man I am not stressed every time I have sex."

"PrEP has given me and my sero-discordant partner a sex life free from concern."

"I realized after the first time I had sex during a BDSM scene after starting PrEP that I could finally unclench and simply enjoy the moment."

Perhaps now is the tipping point moment when we need to start actively re-incorporating insertive and deeply intimate sex into our kink mindset. Let's start encouraging sexual intimacy at our dungeon play parties. Let's start mentioning sex more often when we teach or mentor about BDSM and kink.

Let's stop separating sex from kink and instead embrace both as integral parts of our erotic lives. Let's no longer demonize kinky people who want to fuck like rabbits. Let's stop sanitizing our clubs, organizations, classes, leather titles and other institutions and start embracing sex again.

Let me use this talk about sex to segue into what I witnessed at the recent Mr. Powerhouse Leather contest. Stay with me here. This segue will make sense.

On the Powerhouse stage, three sexy, smart and interesting men competed for the title: Juan Garcia, Pete Berman and Daniel DeLage. As was announced during the contest results, it was an amazingly close point total between all three men. They were all hot, articulate and nice guys.

But what really made me happy was the contestants keeping our scene, and the title should they win it, hot and sexy. Sexiness and eroticism were front and center and that's not always the case at leather contests.

Lance Holman, the MC for the night, kept it focused on sex and play with his questions and commentary. The panel of judges, Stafford Hemmer, Will Victoria, Andy Cross and Matt Johnson, also delved into the overtly sexual and erotic with their questions. When it came time for the contestants to give their speeches, the importance of keeping our scene hot and sexy was again mentioned repeatedly.

This all heartened me considerably. There have been leather contests I have sat through and at the end of it was hard pressed to point out a single moment when the proceedings were actually hot and sexy. Not so at the Powerhouse that night.

In the end, Daniel DeLage proved to be victorious and is the new Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2015. As Daniel carries out his title year, I am sure he will keep the sexy in all that he does. Bravo to the Powerhouse and everyone involved with the contest for helping to do what I think we all need to do �" keep the sex in leathersex.

So to leathermen, leatherwomen and kinksters of all stripes, go forth and bang like bunnies. Sex is good. It should be an integral part of our scene and no longer marginalized.

Finally, it's been about a year since I've been writing this column. I want to thank my editor, Jim Provenzano for asking me to fill in for the departing Scott Brogan as caretaker of this cherished publication space. Thanks also to the countless readers who have given me such positive feedback. I truly appreciate your readership. May 2015 be an awesome year for us all, and of course filled with an abundance of hot sex.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him at his website,