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Hugh Klein
Corresponding author.

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Felching (sucking or eating semen out of someone’s anus) is a sexual behavior about which virtually nothing has been written in the scholarly literature, despite the fact that it appears to be a not-uncommon practice among certain subpopulations of men who have sex with men (MSM). This study examined three broad research questions: (1) How common is felching? (2) How does a desire for felching relate to other HIV risk practices and risk behavior preferences? (3) What factors are associated with the desire to engage in felching? The data were from a content analysis study of one of the largest Internet websites specifically targeting MSM looking for partners for unprotected sex. A total of 1,316 profiles on the site were analyzed and selected randomly based on users’ ZIP codes. Felching was mentioned as a sought-after practice in approximately one-sixth of the men’s profiles. Men who wanted to find felching partners were significantly more likely than those not searching for felching partners to seek other types of risky sex, including unprotected oral and unprotected anal sex, and various enhanced risk preferences (e.g., having sex while high, multiple-partner sex, unwillingness to withdraw the penis prior to internal ejaculation). Multivariate analysis revealed several factors that were related to an interest in identifying partners online for felching, including race/ethnicity, indifference to sex partners’ HIV serostatus, several sensation-seeking measures (e.g., wanting “wild” or “uninhibited” sex, self-identification as a “bug chaser”), and eroticizing ejaculatory fluids.


Introduction

Felching is a sexual practice, fairly common among men who have sex with other men (MSM) but not limited to this population, about which little has been written and, scientifically, about which little is known. Behaviorally speaking, felching entails sucking or eating semen out of someone’s anus. Among heterosexual or bisexually involved couples, felching occasionally occurs as well, and entails sucking or eating semen out of someone’s anus or vagina. In terms of actual practice among MSM, however, what usually happens is that one man performs unprotected anal sex on another man, ejaculates inside of that man’s anus, sucks out the semen from that man’s anus, and then swallows the semen. Sometimes, this process is taken one step farther by then feeding the semen back to the original recipient by drooling it onto or into his mouth or exchanging it back and forth with him orally with a series of deep kisses (i.e., French kisses). The last part of this process—the oral exchange of the semen between the partners—is sometimes referred to as “snowballing “and is, for many men who engage in felching, an integral part of the felching act. It is the part that conveys the greatest interpersonal intimacy through the semen exchange, and it is also a behavior that enhances the chances for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to be transmitted from one man to the other. Among MSM, another variation on felching—one that carries with it considerably greater risk—entails several men performing unprotected anal sex on the same man, all of them ejaculating into that man’s anus, and then one man (who may or may not have been a participant in the anal sex/ejaculation activities) coming along to eat the semen from the group of men out of the recipient’s anus, often concluding the activities by sharing the semen with the original recipient via kissing.

In terms of health risk, felching may involve several types of risk. First, if the anal insertive partner is HIV-positive, the snowballing component of the felching act increases the chances that the receptive partner will become infected because he is being double exposed to the HIV-infected semen (first through receiving it anally, second by accepting it orally). Although the chance of becoming HIV-infected by receiving semen orally is generally considered to be low, it is not a “no risk” or a “safe sex” behavior (Campo et al., 2006; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006; Hawkins, 2001). Second, if the person performing the unprotected anal sex has other sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis, these, too, can be transmitted to the person receiving the semen both through the unprotected anal sex act and through the felching act (Emerson et al., 2007; Morris et al., 2006; Templeton et al., 2008). Likewise, hepatitis may also be transmitted via felching if the person(s) originally providing the semen is/are hepatitis-infected (Turner et al., 2006).

Yet, despite these health risks attendant with felching, little, if anything, has been documented in the scientific literature regarding this behavior. Little is known about how common this practice is among men who have sex with other men or about how common it is for them to report a desire to engage in felching Little is known about the types of men who like to engage in felching or if there are differences between those who do and those who do not practice this behavior. Little is known about how involvement in this particular sexual practice is related to involvement in other risky sexual behaviors. The main purpose of the present study was to examine these particular issues in a sample of men who use the Internet specifically to find sex partners with whom they can engage in unprotected sex. Five research questions were examined: (1) How prevalent is felching among the sexual practices being sought by men who use the Internet to identify potential partners for unprotected sex? (2) What characteristics are associated with expressing a desire for felching in one’s online profile? (3) How, if at all, is a desire for felching related to other sexual risk practices in this population? (4) How, if at all, is a desire for felching related to sexual risk preferences among men who use the Internet to find other men for unprotected sex? (5) What factors differentiate men who look for felching partners online and those who do not, when the effects of other factors are taken into account?


Participants

Men ranged in age from 18 to 63 years (M = 35.8, SD = 8.8). The sample approximated the American population fairly well in terms of its racial composition (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001), with 76.9% of the men being Caucasian, 8.1% African American, 7.8% Latino, 2.7% Asian, 0.2% Native American, and 4.3% biracial/multiracial. The large majority (88.7%) considered themselves to be gay, with most of the remainder (10.0%) self-identifying as bisexual. A small number of men said that they were heterosexual(0.5%) or “curious” (0.8%). One-third of the men(33.9%) self-identified as being “top” or “versatile top”; one-quarter (22.4%) self-identified as being “versatile”; and the remainder (43.7%) self-identified as being a “bottom”; or a “versatile bottom.” Most (59.6%) said that they were HIV-negative, although sizable proportions of the men whose ads were coded said that they knew that they were HIV-positive (17.3%) or that they did not know what their HIV serostatus was (23.1%). The sample, like the American population in general, tended to be skewed toward people residing in more densely populated areas (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). One-fifth (20.0%) of the men lived in an area with fewer than 250 persons per square mile. At the other end of the spectrum, 37.8% of the men resided in an area with more than 5,000 persons per square mile, and half of these men (19.8% of the total sample) lived in an area with more than 10,000 persons per square mile.


Procedure

The data were collected between September 2006 and January 2007 using one of the largest MSM-oriented bareback-focused websites currently available on the Internet. The website was chosen because it is free to the public, findable by virtually any Internet search utilizing common key words like “bareback,” and because it boasts a large and steadily growing membership. This website allows members to post profiles (including photographs) describing themselves, and there are no length restrictions placed on profiles posted. In addition, there are specific places in their profiles where members are instructed to indicate the type(s) of relationships they are seeking (long-term relationships, one-on-one sexual encounters, three-way sexual encounters, and so forth), specific sexual acts that they would like to practice, and an open-ended field that can provide supplemental information about one’s most-sought-after traits or behaviors. Essentially, the large, stable, and growing membership of this website, coupled with members’ ability to describe themselves as fully as they chose, made this particular website an ideal candidate for the present research.

This research relied upon content analysis as the principal analytical tool (Franziosi, 2008; Krippendorff & Bock, 2009). All ads were double-coded (once at the beginning of the study and then again at the end of the study) to ensure data quality, and code-recode reliability coefficients were computed to assess the quality of the data. Kappa coefficients were 0.90 or greater for all items coded, indicating a very high rate of reliability. The content analysis was based on a random sample of users’ profiles, randomly selected by ZIP code, which is a searchable feature on the site. This included analyzing both the “check box “information contained in their profiles and their “free form” self-description narratives, in which they provided detailed information about themselves and/or what they were seeking sexually. Men residing outside of the United States were excluded from this research, so as to keep it a U.S.-focused study. Also excluded from analysis (n = 6) were profiles that had not been filled out completely (i.e., with the user not providing at least one piece of the required information on each profile page on the website). In order to be included in the analyses, a user’s profile had to be active at both the beginning and the conclusion of the data collection period, to guard against “experimenters “or one-time-only visitors to the site being included in the study. (Each profile coded initially was visited at the end of the data collection period to ensure this.) This led to the exclusion of 67 cases (4.8%). In all, 1,316 valid profiles comprise the study sample.


Measures

For each profile, the following information was collected: age (examined both as a continuous measure and as a dichotomous measure comparing men under the age of 30 to those aged 30+); race/ethnicity (Caucasian, African American, Latino, Asian, Native American or biracial/multiracial); self-identification as being a sexual “top,” a versatile top, versatile, a versatile “bottom” or a bottom (analyzed both as “top” vs. other and separately as “bottom” vs. other);self-reported HIV serostatus (negative, positive, or unknown); desired HIV serostatus in sex partners (must be negative, may be negative, must be positive, may be positive, do not care); self-identified sexual orientation (gay, bisexual, “curious, “heterosexual, analyzed as gay vs. other); willingness to give and receive ejaculatory fluid in the mouth and anus; type(s) of “relationships “sought (one-on-one sexual encounter, long-term relationship, three-person sexual encounter, multiple partner sexual encounter, nonsexual activities partner); the user’s ZIP code (which was also used to compute population density as a macro-level analytical variable, in accordance with statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, 2010); and whether or not the user’s profile was one of the most commonly searched profiles on the site on any day during the data collection period.

In addition, data collection also entailed coding for a wide variety of specific sexual behaviors, including, among others, receiving/giving oral sex, receiving/giving anal sex, felching, and rimming (oral stimulation of the anus). Finally, a variety of risk-enhancing practices and attitudes were also coded, including a stated preference for engaging in rough sex, having sexual relations while high (known in the target community as PNP, or “partying and playing”), overtly stating that they will not use condoms and/or that they will not permit their partners to use condoms, an HIV-negative person actively trying to become HIV-infected (known in the target community as “bug chasing”), an HIV-positive person actively trying to infect partners with HIV (known as “gift giving”; for further information about this phenomenon, see Grov & Parsons, 2006; Moskowitz & Roloff, 2007a), unwillingness to withdraw the penis prior to ejaculation and/or unwillingness to allow a sex partner to withdraw his penis prior to ejaculation, an overt preference for anon ymous sex, a stated preference for having long-lasting sexual encounters, an expression of seeking sexual encounters that are “wild “or “uninhibited, “and eroticizing ejaculation fluid (known in the target community as being a “cum whore “or a “cum freak “or a “cum lover “or a “cum dump”).

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All of the research done in conjunction with this article was undertaken as part of a larger study known colloquially as The Bareback Project. The research protocols for this study were reviewed and subsequently approved by the Institutional Review Board at Morgan State University.


Prevalence of Characteristics Associated with Wanting to Find Felching Partners

Approximately 1 man in 6 (16.5%) expressed a desire to find partners with whom he could engage in felching. Men who were looking for felching partners were younger, on average, than those who did not post profiles expressing such an interest (34.5 years of age vs. 36.1, t = 2.41, p = .016), with particular differences noted between men under and those over the age of 30. African American men were considerably less likely than members of other racial/ethnic groups to express a desire for felching (4.7% vs. 17.6%; OR = 0.23, CI95 = 0.08–0.60, p<.001) and, conversely, Caucasian men were substantially more likely than members of other racial/ethnic groups to have profiles indicating an interest in felching (18.0% vs. 11.5%; OR = 1.69, CI95 = 1.13–2.54, p =.007). There was no difference in profiles mentioning or not mentioning felching based on the population density of the area where the men resided or on their sexual orientation.

Felching was more commonly sought by men who self-identified as sexual bottoms or versatile bottoms than it was among those who self-identified as being versatile, versatile tops, or tops (20.2% vs. 13.6%; OR=1.60, CI95=1.18–2.17, p=.002). Men who said that they were HIV-negative were significantly less likely than those who were HIV-positive or unsure about their HIV serostatus to post profiles saying that they wanted to find partners for felching (14.3% vs. 19.7%; OR=0.68, CI95=0.50–0.92, p=.009). Finally, men who had paid for a site membership, which gave them access to additional features and allowed them more comprehensive usage of the site than those without such a membership, were more likely than those who had not paid for a site membership to say that they were looking for partners for felching (20.5% vs. 15.3%; OR=1.43, CI95=1.02–2.01, p=.031).


How Is a Desire for Felching Related to Other HIV Risk Practices?

For the two sexual practices examined that entailed receiving no semen—that is, having someone perform unprotected oral sex on the person, and being the insertive partner in unprotected anal sex—no significant differences were found between men who did and men who did not want to find felching partners (88.5% vs. 87.9% for receiving oral sex; 79.7% vs. 79.7% for insertive anal sex). When the sexual practice in question involved receiving semen, however, men whose profiles indicated an interest in felching were far more likely to want to engage in the risk practice than were those whose profiles indicated no such interest. Where receiving semen during oral sex was concerned, men seeking felching were more than three times as likely as those who were not seeking felching to want to engage in this behavior (19.4% vs. 6.4%; OR = 3.53, CI95 = 2.12–5.95, p <.001). This differential was nearly as large when receiving semen from unprotected anal sex was concerned as well (20.6% vs. 7.2%; OR = 3.34, CI95 = 2.18–5.15, p <.001). Men whose profiles expressed a desire for finding felching partners were about twice as likely as those whose profiles did not to say that they wanted to identify men with whom they could engage in all four of these sexual practices (i.e., receptive and insertive unprotected oral sex, receptive and insertive unprotected anal sex) (21.5% vs. 11.6%; OR = 2.08, CI95 = 1.52–2.85, p <.001). Moreover, men seeking felching online were more likely than those who were not to say that they wanted to find men with whom they could practice oral-anal sex (colloquially known as “rimming”) (26.0% vs. 15.3%; OR = 1.95, CI95 = 1.28–2.96, p<.001).


How Is a Desire for Felching Related to HIV-Related Risk Preferences?

On almost all dimensions of risk preference examined, men whose profiles indicated a desire for felching were also seeking to engage in other sexual behaviors that are considered to be high risk. For example, they were more likely to want to have sexual relations while high (19.6% vs. 12.6%; OR = 1.70, CI95 = 1.24–2.33, p<.001). As another example, they were more than three times as likely to state overtly in their profiles that they would not withdraw their penis prior to internal ejaculation or to allow their partners to do so (48.0% vs. 15.9%; OR = 4.89, CI95 = 2.06–11.59, p<.001). As a third example, men seeking felching were about five times as likely as those not seeking felching to want multiple-partner sex (20.5% vs. 4.3%; OR = 5.70,CI95 = 3.18–10.38,p<.001). They were more likely to want rough sex (24.8% vs. 15.4%; OR = 1.89, CI95 = 1.19–2.76, p =.003), to state overtly that they disliked condoms (even though this was implicit by their very use of the website in question)(41.3%vs.15.6%;OR= 3.81,CI95 = 1.99–7.26,p<.001), to want to find partners with whom they could engage in anonymous sex (32.6% vs. 16.0%; OR = 2.54, CI95 = 1.25–5.10, p =.004), to want to find men for “wild “or “uninhibited” sexual encounters (36.2% vs. 15.0%; OR = 3.22, CI95 = 2.00–5.16, p<.001), to eroticize ejaculatory fluids (35.7% vs. 12.8%; OR = 3.78, CI95 = 2.68–5.34, p<.001), and to want to find partners with whom they could engage in sex involving bondage (21.6% vs. 14.2%; OR = 1.66, CI95 = 1.22–2.27, p<.001).

Consistent with the preceding, men searching online for felching were more than three times as likely as those who were not to be bug chasers—that is, men whose profiles specifically indicated a desire to become HIV-positive (51.7% vs. 15.7%; OR = 5.75, CI95 = 2.58–12.84, p<.001). Also consistent with this, men who were looking for felching partners were more likely than those who were not to say that they did not care about the HIV serostatus of potential sex partners (19.9% vs. 11.3%; OR = 1.94, CI95 = 1.39–2.72, p<.001). The former were also about half as likely as the latter to insist on identifying sex partners who were HIV-negative (10.5% vs.19.8%; OR = 0.47, CI95 = 0.33–0.67, p<.001).

The only risk preferences measure examined that did not demonstrate a significant difference between the men who did and the men who did not advertise for felching online was a stated preference for having long-lasting sexual encounters (19.5% vs. 16.3%).


What Factors Are Associated with Seeking versus Not Seeking Felching Online When the Effects of Other Measures Are Considered?

Table 1 presents the findings obtained in this part of the analysis. The last column of this table provides standardized coefficients, so that readers can compare the relative effects sizes of the items in the final equation. As shown, eight items were found to contribute uniquely and significantly to the determination of whether or not men sought felching partners in their online profiles. The strongest contributor to the model was wanting multiple-partner sex, which was much more common among men looking for felching partners than it was among those who were not (β = 0.32, p<.001). The next strongest variable in the equation was eroticizing ejaculatory fluids. Here, men whose lf-identified as “cum freaks” or “cum dumps “or who said that they could not get enough cum (or anything to that effect) were more likely to seek felching partners online as those who did not so identify (β = 0.20,p<.001). Third, African Americans were found to be substantially less likely than their non-Black counterparts to advertise online for felching partners (β = 0.18, p =.012).


Multivariate findings for the factors associated with whether or not men seek felching partners in their online profiles


Odds ratio95% Confidence intervalβ
Race = African American0.300.12–0.770.18*
Does not care about partner’s HIV serostatus1.511.07–2.140.11*
Wants multiple sex partner sex3.812.15–6.740.32***
Prefers to find men who will have sex while high1.491.08–2.050.11*
Self-identification as a bug chaser3.631.59–8.260.10**
Unwillingness to withdraw prior to internal ejaculation2.851.16–6.990.08*
Seeking “wild” or “uninhibited” sex1.951.20–3.170.09**
Eroticizes ejaculatory fluids2.681.88–3.820.20***