Sex talk
Speaking of Fear

Simon Sheppard, QSyndicate.com

"I'm bisexual, and don't have gay sex that often," says one young fellow, "but I did go home with this guy, and we jacked each other off. Only, I didn't have a chance to wash up thoroughly afterwards, and I may have gotten some semen in my car. So when I got home, I immediately showered and scrubbed down the steering wheel and seats. Does that sound paranoid?"

Well, yeah. No offense, but it does.

Queers have always had plenty of things to be afraid of: social ostracism, gay-baiting insults, bashing. But in the last couple of decades, another dread took precedence: fear of HIV. "Infection" now meant the possibility of an incurable, sometimes fatal disease, instead of just having to go down to the clap clinic for a shot. The sexual stakes had been raised.

And AIDS became a magnet for all the free-floating anxieties around being gay: Sperm equaled germs. While some got out their condoms and reduced their risks as much as possible, others foreswore fucking. Remembers one middle-aged man, "From the mid-'80s till about 1995, I was celibate – except with myself. I figured giving a blowjob just wasn't worth the risk."

But it's hard to hold your breath forever. In fact – as many kinksters know – a judicious amount of fear can even serve as an aphrodisiac. So some guys, fatalistically figuring they were doomed anyway, eventually went hog wild and engaged in lots of risky ramming. More than a few men – including fellows who usually played it safe – used drugs and alcohol to get over whatever anxiety they might have had, and many of them paid the price.

Then new treatments came along, greatly improving the lot of most people with HIV (at least those who could afford them), and in some communities, the lamentable practice of unprotected sex largely replaced condom-clad caution.

Sexually transmitted diseases – not just HIV – can have serious consequences, especially if they go undiagnosed and untreated, and even "safe sex" won't eliminate all the risk, any more than wearing seatbelts makes driving danger-free. But that's no reason to panic.

Nor to let fear of disease amp up internalized homophobia. A virus is most assuredly not God's punishment for being gay. The HIV epidemic may be a flashpoint for all sorts of anxieties, but it's vital not to overreact. Scared-shitless guys rarely make clear-headed decisions.

At the end of the day, each of us comes up with his own risk/benefit analyses, though sometimes that can get quirky. As one safer-sex maven says, "I've had sex with a guy who adamantly insisted on wearing a rubber to get blown, then smoked a cigarette after he came. Frankly, I'd rather risk chlamydia than lung cancer."

Abject fear is usually a lousy reason to do something, but so is head-in-the-clouds foolhardiness. A middle path of penis-protecting prudence is best. It's smart – not paranoid – to learn about the symptoms of STDs, to do what you can to avoid infection, and to get periodic checkups. (Clearly, men who already are HIV-positive have an additional reason to avoid getting other bugs.) And if you still have unreasoning fear of things like mutual jacking, you might as well face it: You may have issues that have little to do with germs.

So be courageous about cock, but not stupid about sex. And don't bother scrubbing your steering wheel with bleach. Sure, you can contract an STD in a car – but only if you have sex in the back seat.

Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Perversion

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