Tales from the backroom: anonymous sex and HIV risk in London's commercial gay sex venues

Keogh, Peter and Weatherburn, Peter (2000). Tales from the backroom: anonymous sex and HIV risk in London's commercial gay sex venues. Venereology, 13(4) pp. 150–155.

URL: http://sigmaresearch.org.uk/articles/item/article2...

Abstract

Background: Increases in the number of (gay) backrooms and saunas in London have generated anxieties about gay male promiscuity and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). We conducted a qualitative study investigating the circumstances under which men engaged in anal intercourse (AI) and unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) in these venues and the risk reduction strategies used.

Methods: 20 men were recruited for individual in-depth interviews, which were tape recorded and transcribed. A case-by-case analysis of transcripts was followed by a thematic content analysis.

Results and discussion: The vast majority of accounts of AI and UAI were characterised by total anonymity. In totally anonymous sexual interaction, the communication of sexual intent, taste and social identity must take place nonverbally by means of visible or tactile signs or clues. We discuss two types of eroticism generated by total anonymity. The first depends on an apprehension of a sexual partner in terms of his body or body parts. The second involves the proliferation of fantasies about a sexual partner's social identity. We explore the relationship between these types of eroticism and the occurrence of UAI and serodiscordant UAI in public sex venues. Risk reduction strategies were informed by a knowledge or assumptions about one's own and one's partner's HIV status and assessments about the likelihood of HIV transmission during UAI.

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