On Bareback Subcultures and the Pornography of Risk

A conversation with Tim Dean about alternative approaches to kinship that oppose normative heterosexual relationships


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Performance
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions



Jean-Michel Rabaté, Aaron Levy


Organized in conjunction with "Gender, Sexuality, Modernism: A Symposium on the State of the Field" at the Department of English, University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia Pa, 19148


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "On Bareback Subcultures and the Pornography of Risk." This event will take place on Friday, October 6, 2006 from 7:00-9:00pm at Slought. Theorist Tim Dean will present on his forthcoming book, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. This publication addresses the emergence of bareback subculture (defined by the principled abandonment of condoms amongst gay men), casting the phenomenon not as an incident of pathological behavior, but rather as an alternative approach to kinship that is opposed to normative heterosexual relationships.

In Unlimited Intimacy, Dean argues that after two decades of safe-sex education, erotic risk among gay men has become organized and deliberate, not just accidental. The principled abandonment of condoms has led to scenarios of purposeful HIV-transmission and, on that basis, to the creation of new sexual identities and communities. Thus the emergence of what has come to be known as bareback subculture represents not only an unprecedented situation in the history of AIDS, but also a new chapter in the history of sexuality. Dean suggests that the emergence of a subculture of bareback sex is not merely coincident with but directly related to the campaign for same-sex marriage that has occupied so much attention in recent years. Gay men have discovered that on the basis of viral transmission they can form relations and networks understood in terms of kinship - networks that represent an alternative to, even as they often resemble, normative heterosexual kinship.

Dean's lecture will be followed by a public conversation with Robert Caserio and Jean-Michel Rabaté, moderated and introduced by Heather Love. Immediately following the conversation, scenes from "Breed Me" and "Plantin' Seed," two bareback pornography videos directed by Paul Morris for Treasure Island Media, will be screened. These videos are of a graphic and spectacular nature that is not suitable for children and may be shocking for adults.

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Tim Dean is Professor of English and associate faculty of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture, and the Department of Comparative Literature at University at Buffalo (SUNY). He is the author of Beyond Sexuality (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and co-editor of Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis (2001). His presentation on bareback pornography at Slought draws on research for his book Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

Robert L. Caserio is Professor of English and Head of English at the Pennsylvania State University-University Park. His publications include The Novel in England 1900-1950: History and Theory (Prentice Hall, 1999). His most recent work on gay and lesbian literature is "Queer Fiction: the Ambiguous Emergence of a Genre" in Blackwell's Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction (2006), ed. James F. English. Citizen Queen, a work in progress, is a study of Paul Goodman, Gore Vidal, and Samuel R. Delany.

Heather Love teaches in the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the co-editor of a special issue of New Literary History called "Is There Life After Identity Politics?" and has published essays in Transition, GLQ, Feminist Theory, NLH, Postmodern Culture, and The Women's Review of Books. Her book Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.

Jean-Michel Rabaté is a Senior Curator at Slought, a Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University and has authored or edited twenty books on Modernism, Bernard, Joyce, Pound, Beckett, Lacan, Derrida, psychoanalysis and literary theory.

"Barebacking is overdetermined behavior, by which I mean that no single causal explanation - whether in terms of the availability of antiretroviral medications or the popularity of illegal drugs such as crystal methamphetamine - is sufficient to account for it. Commentary on the bareback phenomenon almost unanimously treats it as pathological behavior; to do otherwise may appear as justification of ostensibly indefensible conduct. Given that I make every effort not to pathologize the subculture, I would like it to be understood from the outset that Unlimited Intimacy is far from an apologia for barebacking. New, apparently unintelligible behavior such as the organized sharing of infected semen requires not a rush to judgment but a careful suspension of judgment, before certain actions may become remotely transparent."

-- Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking