What To Consider Before and After Bareback Sex

Facts, Risks, and STD Testing

"Bareback sex" is a term mostly used to describe men having unprotected anal intercourse with men, but it is also sometimes used to refer to unprotected sex in general.

Bareback sex increases the risk of getting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so it is important to learn what precautions you may need to take if you wish to have it.

A couple lying in bed together
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What Does “Bareback” Mean?

The term "bareback" refers to having penetrative sex without the use of a condom. It's slang commonly used in the LGBTQ+ community and relates to riding a horse without a saddle, also known as riding bareback.

Risks of Bareback Sex

There are various risks associated with bareback sex. Since no protective barrier such as a condom is used, there can be a higher chance of getting HIV and other types of STIs. This is especially true for men who have sex with men (MSM). In 2018, MSM made up over 80% of HIV cases in the United States.

Because the rectum's lining is thin and easily injured, it's easier for cuts and tears to develop during anal sex, which makes for easier transmission of HIV. Because of this, there is a higher risk of getting HIV from bareback sex than other types of sex, especially for those who are the receptive (bottom) partner.

The inserting (top) partner is also at risk, as HIV can enter the body through the opening of the penis (urethra), or through cuts, abrasions, and sores on the penis.

Bareback sex can also lead to other types of STIs, such as chlamydia,  hepatitis B, and gonorrhea.

Women are also at risk of getting HIV from unprotected anal sex. Although only 18% of new HIV cases in 2018 were among women, the risk of getting HIV increases for women who have unprotected anal sex, especially if they do so with MSM.

Possible Benefits

There is, of course, no risk involved in barebacking if consenting adults know that they are not infected with HIV or other types of infections. Many people find bareback sex to be more pleasurable and exciting than protected sex. They enjoy the skin-to-skin contact and feel that they can bond more closely with their partner.

Barebacking may also provide an incentive to remain monogamous when both partners are committed to the relationship.

Talking to Your Partner

Although it may seem that talking about your sexual and medical histories before barebacking can be dull or ruin the mood, a frank conversation can keep you and your partner safe from infection.

The "hookup culture" sometimes seen in dating apps and late-night clubbing is risky if precautions aren't practiced. People infected with HIV can appear symptom free, so thoroughly talking with your partner before engaging in bareback sex is essential.

Being Open About Your Status

Discuss boundaries and expectations with your partner, especially if it is your first time together. Clarify if either of you has other sexual partners and are using protection with them. It is important to routinely get tested for STIs and share your status with them too.

It can be difficult to talk about such things with somebody you may not know well, but it is important for the safety of everyone involved.

Also, even if you and your partner are both HIV positive, bareback sex may still cause further infection. There are different strains of HIV. If your partner has a detectable load of an HIV strain that is resistant to HIV medication, there is a possibility of you getting it. Be sure to discuss your HIV status and treatment thoroughly with your partner.

Preventive Measures

The only sure way of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV or other STIs is through abstinence—avoiding anal, vaginal, and oral sex altogether. But if you want to engage in sex, especially barebacking, the safest way is to use protection, most notably condoms.

When used correctly, condoms can reduce the risk of getting HIV and other STIs substantially. Research shows that HIV-negative men who use condoms when engaging in sex with HIV-positive men can reduce their risk of getting HIV by 70%.

You can also take other preventive measures, especially if you don't have HIV and plan to have bareback sex with someone who has or may have been exposed to HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the use of oral medication to prevent HIV infection. It is recommended for those at high risk of getting HIV, such as MSM.

STI Exposure

If you had bareback sex and think that you may have been exposed to HIV or other STIs, see a doctor as soon as you can. For HIV, postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) uses medications to prevent HIV infection if an HIV-negative person was exposed to HIV, and it requires a prescription.

PEP is usually given within 72 hours after exposure to HIV, as HIV can develop quickly within 24–36 hours after infection.

Your doctor will probably recommend STI testing to see if an infection has occurred. If so, they will take the necessary steps to put you on a treatment plan for the infection involved.

For example, in the case of an HIV infection, antiretroviral drugs are used to stop the virus from multiplying, which can lessen the viral load to a point at which it is undetectable in the body.

A Word From Verywell

Bareback sex can be a fun and pleasurable form of sex. But with any type of unprotected sex, the risk of getting HIV and other STIs increases greatly. To ensure the safety of you both, be sure to talk with your partner about your sexual history and current HIV and other STI infection status before engaging in bareback sex.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should women know about bareback sex?

    Women should know that bareback sex increases the risk of getting HIV and other STIs for them too. The rectal lining is more delicate than the vagina, making it easier to transmit HIV through cuts or anal fissures that can happen from anal sex.

    Like men, women should be cautious if they plan to engage in bareback sex, especially if their partner is a man who has sex with other men.

  • How do you safely prepare for bareback sex?

    Talk with your partner thoroughly about your sexual histories and whether each of you is engaging in protected or unprotected sex with other partners. Get tested to ensure that neither of you has an HIV or other STI infection.

    Also, especially for receptive partners in anal sex, lubrication may be necessary to reduce friction and irritation, which can lessen the risk of getting a tear inside the rectal lining.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV and men.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ways HIV can be transmitted.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV and women: HIV incidence.

  4. MedlinePlus. Asymptomatic HIV infection.

  5. World Health Organization. HIV drug resistance.

  6. Smith DK, Herbst JH, Zhang X, Rose CE. Condom effectiveness for HIV prevention by consistency of use among men who have sex with men in the United States. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015;68(3):337-44. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000461

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

By Jerry Kennard
 Jerry Kennard, PhD, is a psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society.