What Men Should Know

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about HIV…

One of my favourite sitcom quotes comes from Will & Grace when Karen tries to coax Jack into sleeping with Beverly (Lesley Jordan) for money.  “Oh you'll do it. You'll do it the same way any self-respecting woman does. Get on your back, point your heels to Jesus and think of handbags.”

Don’t know about you but the last thing I think about when I am (excuse the pun) “in” the moment, is handbags – or any other commodity for that matter. I need to feel connected to the person for me to be in the moment and truth be told, I try to find meaning in every encounter.

I guess when you have sex with a regular shag buddy you kinda know what to expect after a while. Of course, the more versatile and flexible you are the more adventurous and unpredictable your bed sports should be. Not that I’m an expert! I just think that variety is the spice of life, whether it is cuisine, couture, culture or cocks.

You don’t have to eat spicy food or go commando to feel exhilarated (although the latter does tickle my fancy). Some guys prefer Thai twinks to Berlin bears and that’s just fine. Let’s be real; is it fair to totally dis something if you’ve never tried it? Sure, we have different and unique tastes and the same things don’t turn us all on. It goes for turn-offs too. Sadly, one of the biggies here still seems to be status, ie positive guys.

Several years ago I had a crush on a cute guy. At the time I didn’t think he’d look twice at me but as it turned out my advances intrigued him. We met up a few days later and we had horny, unprotected flip-flop sex. I knew he was positive before we hooked up and I somehow expected him to say something at some point but he didn’t. When I eventually raised my concerns about safe sex he felt offended by my possible implication that he had put my life in danger. To be fair, I could’ve suggested condoms but I didn’t. Also, I felt I couldn’t blame him for not disclosing his status because HIV was way more stigmatised back then. We didn’t cum inside of each other and that gave me some peace of mind. In spite of the mutual on-each-other finish, slowly the overriding lust factor from earlier waned into fifty shades of anxiety! What if my skin was microscopically damaged somewhere and I got his semen in my blood stream? What if his semen that ended up on my pubic and groin area somehow got inside me? What if I became HIV positive? I couldn’t even get the words out. In hindsight, my concerns were rooted in my ignorance on the routes of HIV transmission, but back to my story…

We stopped seeing each other when I realised he was into NSA only, a concept I wasn’t familiar with at the time. I wasn’t prepared to continue shagging someone who didn’t feel anything for me when I clearly felt something for him. Also, that made me wonder if he would really and seriously take my sexual health into account when he had no emotional investment in me.

For a long time after that I struggled to find meaning in this experience. Why did I expose myself and give myself so easily to a pompous, positive guy? Was it that I thought he’d be more accessible and available due to his positive status? Maybe. Did I have a death wish? Definitely not. Was I looking for adventure and landed up way over my head? Quite possibly. I couldn’t find any real meaning until a few years later when my best friend contracted HIV. Had it not been for the previous encounter I may not have been as understanding or supportive to my friend. However limited my knowledge at the time may still have been!

The movie “The Normal Heart” offers a pretty good road map from where we have come in our understanding of HIV – from the long shadow cast by the 80’s ‘Grim Reaper’ prevention messaging, to the major scientific advancements in treatment and more comprehensive prevention options. Seeing the likes of Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo in the cast not only attests of an increasing number of big names standing up for people living with HIV and the fight against Aids but it also shows that the topic is gradually becoming as much part of any household as “Pretty Woman”. There is a definite shift in society with regards to the ‘big red ribbon in the room’ but the fear the disease has instilled in the world at large is still deeply engrained in our collective unconsciousness. Whether we embrace, ignore or are indifferent in our attitude to HIV the reality is this – stigma affects everyone!

We’ve come a hell of a long way and we still have a way to go. Be honest with yourself, scrutinize your false beliefs and weigh them up with scientific facts. The more we talk about HIV the more we educate. And the more we banish (our own) fears the easier we make it for everybody. The infamous auntie Aida thrives on fear and ignorance and before you know it she’s settled in to stay. The more we understand her the better we become at keeping her at bay.  And by all means – show a little respect.

Educate yourself by taking a look at the groundbreaking PARTNER study (HIV transmission risk through condomless sex if HIV+ partner is on suppressive ART) and also the combination prevention articles on the Health4Men website. (Links below)

Joe Lean is a contributing writer for Health4Men, a project of the Anova Health Institute NPC, funded by USAID through PEPFAR. This article represents the writer’s personal views.

The PARTNER Study link

Combination Prevention

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