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Monday, June 8, 2009

Let's talk about sex, baby...

Let's talk about you and me. Or, more generally, all of us fags out there in the wide world.

Gay men have a reputation, deserved or not, for being sexually adventurous, and for having way more sex than straights. Just how far this reputation matches reality is hard to say. There is certainly more than a grain of truth to it, although not a few gay men do lead dull suburban lives just like so many straights.

But overall, I'd argue, we have historically been more sophisticated and wide-ranging in our sexual behaviour than not. After all, it was, and is still, easy for two guys to get together for nothing more than a shared orgasm. No worries about pregnancy and marriage, just a bit of fun between consenting adults. Or even a group of consenting adults. Or two bored consenting adults filling in 15 minutes of lunch break.

And the bigger the city, the more developed, the more sophisticated the range of venues, types and activities that are available. Let's face it - Amsterdam is to Auckland as Auckland is to Twizel. Gay men know their bodies intimately, all the bits that nice suburban straights think of as "yucky" we take in our stride, as it were.

And even if the urge to get out and spread your stuff around does lessen as we age, there is always a new generation coming through, who were as we once were: Young, dumb and full of cum.

I do hope, however, that they aren't full of the shame that so many of us used to have. Because shame is the big killer around sex. It robs it of joy. It shows a viewpoint that is "sex-negative" as they say now. The body, sex, bodily pleasures, all become suspect in this view, and something to be disciplined instead of enjoyed.

Shame does get very hard for those of us living with HIV (I tried to write a column that doesn't bring HIV in, honestly...) . Shame, fear, self-loathing, a sense of being dirty and somehow wrong. Not to mention completely sexually unattractive. And from my observations, the more deeply religious the childhood background, the more shame and sense of sin that comes to the surface.

But we HIV+ poofs can have, and deserve to have just as rich and satisfying a sex life as anyone else. Living with HIV does not mean that we must now automatically commit to a life of celibacy. This has long been one of the core claims that AIDS activists have made. We are still human. We are still hot. We are still shaggable. We are still lovable.We are still horny.

And we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Yet so many of us act as though we do. So many HIV+ guys are terrified of admitting their status, of the stigma that goes with the diagnosis. And I understand, that stigma is real. But I suggest the only was we are going to get over it, or get our peers over it really, is to be more visible. The number of HIV+ gay men is going up every year. Your chances of coming across one of us (pun intended) are higher than ever. Yet so many of us are paralysed with fear over rejection, over labels, over that sense that we have somehow done wrong by becoming HIV+. We haven't done anything wrong. In fact, we have nothing to be ashamed of. It's a bummer, it's shitty, it's not what you'd want, but it's nothing to be ashamed of either.

The more visible those of us are with HIV, I think the better things will be. Think of the Mental Health Foundation's "Like Minds" campaign, or the brilliant and public campaign that Positive Women ran last year. Visibility, when you're ready, helps: shame and hiding cripple us.

And so back to sex. And the recent discussions around the responsibilities of poz guys to disclose their status every time. The idea that it is the responsibility of poz men to always disclose is superficially tempting, but I think ultimately self-defeating. So many guys with the virus simply don't know they have it. If you get men making their sexual choices along the lines of "He told me so he must be neg" they will have plenty of opportunity to increase thier risks of infection. Far better to leave the brutal but simple message we have: "Use a condom and lube every time".

Because, we will continue to have sex, poz and neg men alike. Some will disclose, most will not. Many simply won't know. But if we all wrap it up, we can all have fun safely. And that beats the alternative.

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