(404) 874-8536 johnballew@gmail.com

Safer Sex or Conscious Sex?

When the conversation turns to safer sex and HIV these days, some people wonder, “After years and years of anti-HIV sex education, how can people still be getting infected?  Are they stupid?”  Gay men know how HIV is transmitted nowadays, and enough of us have seen condoms pulled over bananas to figure out how the things work.  (If you’re uncertain about either of these things, contact your local AIDS service organization immediately.)  We’ve heard it over and over until it has been drilled into our heads:  responsible gay men use a condom every time.  So what’s wrong with gay men?  Why are so many of us still getting infected?

A big part of the problem is crystal meth, of course.  Men who are zooming on meth aren’t that interested in using a condom with that hot guy they just met at the club.  A study in San Francisco found that 40 percent of gay men who became HIV positive were frequent crystal users.  Methamphetamine users may find it much harder to do what they know they should be doing; the part of their brains that make those sorts of decisions has been switched off by crystal.  Or Ecstasy.  Or booze.  Our community seems to like to alter its state of consciousness, and that makes safer sex a challenge.

There’s another problem, though, and it has to do with the way gay men have been taught to think about sex over the past couple of decades.  Politicians beholden to the religious right have defunded pro-sexuality messages.  The stuff we’ve gotten instead have been so negative and gone on for so long that many gay men have experienced a sort of sexual trauma as a result.  There is no telling how much sexual dysfunction has been caused by unhealthy safer sex campaigns that scare gay men out of their erections.

How has safer sex education failed gay men?  We’ve been taught to look at other men’s semen as something potentially toxic, despite the ample evidence that men love and crave cum.  A sensible approach to safer sex would help men look at what the sticky white stuff means to them and would explore all the ways there are to enjoy it without putting themselves at risk.  (Basically, don’t have anal sex without a condom.)

Safer sex educators encourage people to talk about their HIV status before having sex, but typically don’t say much about what to do with the information.  Some guys act like a deer in the headlights when a potential partner reveals he’s positive.  This is not a response that encourages openness and honesty.

The failure of this approach spawned the ugliest offspring of safer sex campaigns:  personal ads that specify “disease free only” or “I’m clean, UB2.”  Setting aside the highly offensive notion that having HIV makes you “unclean,” this is a really naïve approach to avoiding infection.  For one thing, many people answering such ads probably don’t know whether they have HIV or not.  For another, it assumes that everyone responding to your ad will tell you the truth – even after you’ve insulted the people you most hope will be honest with you!  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

People are sexual for a variety of reasons – connection, intimacy, romance, but also out of a desire to be wild, passionate, out of control.  Safer sex education that amounts to “use a condom every time” is going to be pretty useless if men are going to clubs to get wild and crazy then go home and continue the party action at home.  It’s like locking the barn door after the horses are gone.

We need a more sophisticated, intelligent and compassionate way to talk to one another more than we need to fetishize condoms.  The situations that cause men to become infected with HIV usually arise long before they land in bed.

For instance:  how do you feel about yourself and about other gay men?  If you don’t feel good about yourself, you’re much more likely to treat yourself like you’re not worth all that much.  And if you’ve internalized the message that gay men aren’t worth all that much – a message brought to you by too many churches and politicians – then treating other men disrespectfully when you’re being sexual isn’t going to seem like a big deal.

Who’s in charge of your life – you, or some hot guy you’ve just met?  (Hint:  if the answer isn’t “you,” you’re in trouble, buddy.)   Taking responsibility for our own well being means not allowing ourselves to be sexual when we’re too fucked up to make smart choices, or not partying so hard that our mind is disabled if we’re horny and on the prowl.  Put another way – you can lose control one way or the other, but not both if you want to safeguard your health.  Being horny doesn’t let you off the hook.

Making conscious choices allows us to accept responsibility for our own well being.  We’re not all going to make the same decisions; that’s why we’re talking about choice. Not all sexual encounters are the same.  Sex with someone you’re dating and getting to know may be quite a bit different than doing it with a guy you’ve just met in a sex club or when you’re too blasted to drive a car.

Ultimately all of this is our responsibility as a community.  We either love and care for ourselves and one another – or we don’t.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

Let's get started.

Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.