Social Theory & Health

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 235–250 | Cite as

Barebacking with Weber: Re-enchanting the rational sexual order

  • Brandon Andrew Robinson
Original Article


Sexual health discourses have become a defining part of many gay men’s sex lives. These discourses have effectively linked gay identity to HIV/AIDS discourses through telling most gay men how to rationally have sex and how to routinely get tested. However, some gay men who bareback – the choice often made not to use a condom – engage in condomless sex despite these larger discourses. Through using Weber’s theories on rationalization, I explicate how sexual health and HIV/AIDS discourses are calculable, efficient systems that are about protecting the public good. I show how this rationalized sexual health system disciplines pleasure and intimacy. Through this disciplining, I illuminate how sexual public health has disenchanted sex, specifically for some gay men, where some of these men who bareback may be attempting to find re-enchantment in this disenchanted sexual world. Through this Weberian framework, barebacking may be seen as an act that can allow for the re-exploration of personability, intimacy, eroticism and love.


barebacking Weber HIV/AIDS sexual health rationalization discipline 


  1. Blackwell, C. (2010) The relationship among population size, requests for bareback sex, and HIV serostatus in men who have sex with men using the Internet to meet sexual partners. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 20 (3): 349–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Carballo-Dieguez, A. and Bauermeister, J. (2004) ‘Barebacking’: Intentional condomless anal sex in HIV-risk contexts. Reasons for and against it. Journal of Homosexuality 47 (1): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010) HIV Surveillance Report, 2008. Vol. 20. Atlanta, Georgia.Google Scholar
  4. Cockerham, W., Abel, T. and Luschen, G. (1993) Max Weber, formal rationality, and health lifestyles. The Sociological Quarterly 34 (3): 413–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Corbett, A., Dickson-Gómez, J., Hilario, H. and Weeks, M. (2009) A little thing called love: Condom use in high-risk primary heterosexual relationships. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 41 (4): 218–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Crimp, D. (1987) How to have promiscuity in an epidemic. October 43 (Winter): 237–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davis, M. (2002) HIV prevention rationalities and serostatus in the risk narratives of gay men. Sexualities 5 (3): 281–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis, M. (2009) Sex, Technology, and Public Health. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dean, T. (2009) Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dixon-Mueller, R. (2007) The sexual ethics of HIV testing and the rights and responsibilities of partners. Studies in Family Planning 38 (4): 284–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dowsett, G., Williams, H., Ventuneac, A. and Carballo-Dieguez, A. (2008) ‘Taking it like a man’: Masculinity and barebacking online. Sexualities 11 (1–2): 121–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fairchild, A. and Alkon, A. (2007) Back to the future? Diabetes, HIV, and the boundaries of public health. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 32 (4): 561–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Federman, C., Holmes, D. and Tremblay, F. (2011) Reflecting on HIV disclosure laws in the context of unsafe sex and the harm-reduction strategy. Social Theory & Health 9 (3): 224–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  15. Gauthier, D. and Forsyth, C. (1999) Bareback sex, bug chasers, and the gift of death. Deviant Behavior 20 (1): 85–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love & Eroticism in Modern Societies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gisselquist, D. and Potterat, J. (2003) Heterosexual transmission of HIV in Africa: An empiric estimate. International Journal of STD & AIDS 14 (3): 162–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gonzalez, O. (2010) Tracking the bugchaser: Giving the gift of HIV/AIDS. Cultural Critique 75 (Spring): 82–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grov, C. (2004) ‘Make me your death slave’: Men who have sex with men and use the Internet to intentionally spread HIV. Deviant Behavior 25 (4): 329–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grov, C. and Parsons, T. (2006) Bug chasing and gift giving: The potential for HIV transmission among barebackers on the Internet. AIDS Education and Prevention 18 (6): 490–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grov, C., DeBusk, J., Bimbi, D., Golub, S., Nanin, J. and Parsons, J. (2007) Barebacking, the Internet, and harm reduction: An intercept survey with gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles and New York City. AIDS and Behavior 11 (4): 527–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Halkitis, P., Parsons, J. and Wilton, L. (2003) Barebacking among gay and bisexual men in New York city: Explanations for the emergence of intentional unsafe behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior 32 (4): 351–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hamblin, J. and Somerville, M. (1991) Surveillance and reporting of HIV infection and AIDS in Canada: Ethics and law. University of Toronto Law Journal 41 (2): 224–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holmes, D., O’Byrne, P. and Gastaldo, D. (2006) Raw sex as limit experience: A Foucauldian analysis of unsafe anal sex between men. Social Theory & Health 4 (4): 319–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holmes, D. and O’Byrne, P. (2010) Subjugated to the ‘apparatus of capture’: Self, sex and public health technologies. Social Theory & Health 8 (3): 246–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Keogh, P. (2008) How to be a healthy homosexual: HIV health promotion and the social regulation of gay men in the United Kingdom. Journal of Homosexuality 55 (4): 581–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Schiller, N., Crystal, S. and Lewellen, D. (1994) Risky business: The cultural construction of AIDS risk groups. Social Science Medicine 38 (10): 1337–1346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tewksbury, T. (2003) Bareback sex and the quest for HIV: Assessing the relationship in Internet personal advertisements of men who have sex with men. Deviant Behavior 24 (5): 467–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tewksbury, T. (2006) ‘Click here for HIV’: An analysis of internet-based bug chasers and bug givers. Deviant Behavior 27 (4): 379–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Turner, B. (1982) The government of the body: Medical regimes and the rationalization of diet. The British Journal of Sociology 33 (2): 254–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Weber, M. (1930) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Weber, M. (1946a) Bureaucracy. In: H.H. Gerth and C.W. Mills (eds.) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 196–244.Google Scholar
  33. Weber, M. (1946b) The meaning of discipline. In: H.H. Gerth and C.W. Mills (eds.) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 253–264.Google Scholar
  34. Weber, M. (1946c) Religious rejections of the world and their directions. In: H.H. Gerth and C.W. Mills (eds.) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 323–359.Google Scholar
  35. Weber, M. (1946d) The social psychology of world religions. In: H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills (eds.) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 267–301.Google Scholar
  36. Worth, H., Reid, A. and McMillan, K. (2002) Somewhere over the rainbow: Love, trust and monogamy in gay relationships. Journal of Sociology 38 (3): 237–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Yep, G., Lovaas, K. and Pagonis, A. (2002) The case of ‘riding bareback’. Journal of Homosexuality 42 (4): 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brandon Andrew Robinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations