Sex talk
Speaking of Staying Safe

Simon Sheppard,

It's been nearly a quarter of a century; you'd think the message would have gotten across. But rates of new HIV infections are still at high levels in some parts of the queer community. Sure, there are new treatments available, but they're toxic, expensive, and – distressingly for gym bunnies – can make your body look really weird.

So it's possible to say, without sounding like somebody's disapproving maiden uncle – after all, sex is supposed to be fun –– that some guys really should be more careful. Now, let's be honest here; it's hard to hold your breath for a long, long time. As one HIV negative fellow puts it, "Sometimes I think that I should just give up and give in to the inevitable." But the fact is that unless you have unprotected anal sex, HIV infection is not only not inevitable, it's unlikely. Yep, even if you suck dick without a rubber, though that's not precisely risk-free.

Problem is, despite the rosy propaganda of early HIV educators, rubbers simply don't feel as good to most guys as unprotected sex does. And they can be a bother to use. But they are, like seatbelts or motorcycle helmets, a necessity on the road of life. (Now, some of you out there are already infected, but it appears that reinfection is not only possible, but can hasten disease. So you should think about safer sex, too.)

The easiest way to stay safe, many men have found, is to make safer sex an automatIc routine. "I no longer think about whether I should use a condom. I just do it," says one rubberized guy. That means always having rubbers at the ready when you hit the sack. It also means being practiced enough, if you're a top, to put on the stretchy little thing without a fumble. Or, if you're a bottom, to insist on protection no matter how hot he is, no matter how much you want his dick in your ass.

It also means not getting bombed, or if you do, not letting things spin out of hand. The use of crystal meth has been linked to a large proportion of new HIV infections, but even a few too many beers can lead a boy to do something he wouldn't do if he were sober.

There are a bunch of factors that make it statistically more likely for a guy to get infected: being young, a guy of color, or not hooked into a supportive queer community. Having substance abuse problems is another, of course. And a recent British study showed that men who met their partners over the Internet (rather than at, in this case, a gym) were more likely to have unsafe sex and less likely to know their own HIV status. But none of those factors (not even all of them) makes being infected with HIV a foregone conclusion. Far from it.

"It's really pretty simple," says one HIV prevention educator. "Use a latex or polyurethane condom for anal sex, don't get cum in your mouth – especially if you have mouth sores or bad gums – and that'll keep your HIV risk, way, way down."

That is, of course, not the same as "no risk," and a bunch of other sexually transmitted diseases are easier to pass on than HIV, so even condomized sex can pose health risks. But other activities – from mutual jack-off to S&M; – are much less likely to transmit nasties. So be creative, be careful, be kinky if you want, and don't assume that being sexual, or even being a slut, dooms you to a life of meds and immune-system monitoring. Be a safe-sex slut, and live a long and happy life, OK?

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

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