Online ‘barebacking’ community and the creation of ‘sex pig’ identities: Exploring affordances of a Web forum in celebrating sexual excess
The Internet and HIV biomedical technologies are considered as significant technological advances underpinning “barebacking”, or condom-less anal sex among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Online chatrooms, discussion boards, and geosocial networking applications (“apps”) are regarded as having facilitated new opportunities to meet and connect with other barebackers. Virtual spaces enabled the proliferation of online discourses specific to barebacking, such as “bugchasing” and “giftgiving” to refer to the intentional spreading of HIV. While previous research focus on the metaphors used by bugchasers and giftgivers online, such studies lack analyses of other barebacking practices and identities beyond intentional seroconversion. This paper seeks to fill this gap by examining the affordances of a barebacking online community I call “Pigpen” in offering space for MSM to discuss various topics apart from intentional seroconversion: in particular, the emergence of “sex pigging”. Analyzing online forum discussions, I argue that Pigpen opens possibilities for reimagining sex pigging desires, identities, and practices that are intertwined and constituted by HIV prevention discourses and biomedical technologies. While sex pigging is associated with sexual excess, I demonstrate that limitless sex is practiced in a variety of ways: ranging from the eroticization of HIV and other STIs, to avoiding transmission by adapting some harm reduction strategies. Some sex pigs reappropriate the association of pigs with revulsion and taboo by reframing sexual excess as pleasurable and productive of feelings of freedom. By contrast, other sex pigs renegotiate risk and safety by incorporating risk minimization, giving rise to the possibility of “safer sex pigs”. Thus, sex pigging desires, identities, and practices are more complex than previously thought because they do not neatly fall into the category of irrationality and irresponsibility.
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