The End of Safe Gay Sex?

By Patrick William Kelly for The New York Times

June is Pride Month, a ripe time to reflect on one of the most startling facts about our sexual culture today: Condom use is all but disappearing among large numbers of gay men.

Many rightly attribute the condom’s decline to the rise of PrEP — an acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis, a two-drug cocktail that inoculates a person from contracting H.I.V. But another crucial component is the fading memory of the AIDS crisis that once defined what it meant to be gay.

After tracking the sexual practices of 17,000 gay and bisexual Australian men from 2014 to 2017, a team of researchers this month unveiled the most convincing evidence to date. While the number of H.I.V.-negative men who are on PrEP increased to 24 percent from 2 percent, the rate of condom use decreased to 31 percent from 46 percent. More troubling, condom use among non-gay men is also down significantly.

Although public health advocates have been sounding the alarm on condom use for the last decade, their calls have gone largely unheeded. Part of that is because of a shift in how we talk about risky sex: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has replaced “unprotected” with “condomless” sex.