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J Urban Health. 2009 Mar;86(2):250-62. doi: 10.1007/s11524-008-9333-4. Epub 2008 Dec 3.

Predictors of identifying as a barebacker among high-risk New England HIV seronegative men who have sex with men.

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  • 1The Fenway Institute, Fenway Community Health, Boston, MA, USA.


Studies have found that between 14% and 46% of US men who have sex with men (MSM) consistently report "barebacking" behavior (i.e., intentional unprotected anal intercourse) with other men. This is of public health significance because MSM continue to constitute more than 50% of new HIV infections in the USA. Men who self-identify as barebackers may represent a different and unique subset of MSM with distinct HIV prevention needs. In 2007, 227 HIV seronegative MSM recruited through modified respondent-driven sampling completed an interviewer-administered survey which assessed barebacker identity (i.e., personally identifying with the barebacker scene), demographics, sexual risk behaviors, psychosocial variables, and drug/alcohol use. Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression procedures were used to examine predictors of barebacker identity in relation to HIV risk behavior. Overall, 31% of participants identified as a barebacker. In bivariate analyses, lower education (OR = 1.76; 95% CI = 0.99-3.13; p < 0.05), a current drinking problem (OR = 2.34, 95% CI = 1.29-4.23; p < 0.01), higher levels of HIV treatment optimism (OR = 1.06; 95% CI = 1.01-1.12; p < 0.05), meeting sexual partners at private sex parties (OR = 2.47; 95% CI = 1.28-4.74; p < 0.01) or at bars/cubs (OR = 1.97; 95% CI = 1.10-3.52; p < 0.05), and engaging in serodiscordant unprotected insertive anal sex (OR = 3.42; 95% CI = 1.27-9.21; p < 0.01) significantly predicted barebacker identification compared to those with no barebacker identification. In a multivariable model, barebackers were more likely to screen in for alcohol abuse (adjusted OR = 2.16; 95% CI = 1.09-4.27; p < 0.05) and engage in serodiscordant unprotected insertive anal sex (adjusted OR = 3.17; 95% CI = 1.09-9.20; p < 0.05) compared to their non-barebacker counterparts. No significant differences were found in serodiscordant unprotected receptive anal sex between barebackers and non-barebackers. These findings suggest that barebacker identity is related to intentional HIV sexual risk taking and alcohol abuse. Furthermore, strategic positioning (i.e., engaging in insertive rather than receptive sex) might be associated with barebacker identification and may indicate a harm-reduction strategy being used among some HIV-uninfected MSM to reduce their risk of becoming infected. Additional research is warranted to understand the social identity of barebacking among MSM in order to develop more nuanced prevention strategies.

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