As Tom and I continued to butt heads in the little cafe at The Bellagio, the argument just became more circular and more frustrating. Initially I didn’t care about his opinions on condom usage vs PrEP. The only thing that mattered was loading up my mouth with some savory chicken crepe. But what continued to unload out of his mouth just made me want to spit the crepe all over the table. Of course I didn’t because I’m not a child and I also love food way too much to not swallow it.
I’m not going to go into detail about Tom and I’s argument as I previously planned for this essay. But let’s just say that it started off by his saying “I don’t understand these guys who bareback all the time and think they shouldn’t be judged for it.” Specifically referring to guys on PrEP, his words only got more condemning from there. As I tried to offer up a sex positive perspective, he continually shut it down like a lusty lawyer.
Truth be told, once upon an early-twenty-somethings, I spouted off a similar sexual rhetoric. I’d say things like “How does anyone get HIV in this day in age? We know how it works. Just use a condom! It’s not that hard.”
What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that using condoms wasn't that hard… for me. For many others, it was far more complicated. I passed judgment on that which I didn’t understand and I lacked empathy for those who didn’t do it “my way.” Ironically (and probably deservingly), I contracted HIV through a broken condom.
In the wake of my diagnosis, I embraced humility and thus sex positivity came naturally for me. Years would pass before I even ever heard the label. Eric Barry described it best on his Huffington Post piece as “the idea that one’s sexual preferences are a matter of personal choice, and that within the confines of informed consent, those preferences should not be subject to the moral imposition of others.” It’s not that we all have to like the same things. We just don’t have to hate on what each other like.
While the harshness of Tom’s words flew in the face of sexual positivity, I understood some of his never-ending arguments:
- PrEP doesn’t prevent other STI transmission outside of HIV.
- Guys aren’t concerned about HIV because they can just go on government assistance to take a once-daily pill which then affects him as a responsible tax payer (okay, that one’s pretty dicey).
- And what if all this bareback sex leads to a new disease - one that comes out of nowhere and kills us all again?!
As my partner puts it, we don’t necessarily have to look at such issues as “A or B” (good or bad, right or wrong). Instead with sexual positivity, we get to see it as “A through Z.” It’s a continuum of thoughts and practices. Such sexual issues are totally worth discussing, but they aren’t ever black and white. It’s all grey area. So on the flip side to Tom’s concerns:
- Those other STIs can be transmitted orally - some even through skin-to-skin contact. So unless you go knob bobbing with a condom or offer up handy-jays in a hazmat suit, we’re all in that together.
- Most HIV positive folks get coverage through their insurance as well as copay assistance programs through the pharmaceutical companies. The Ryan White funds from the government are crucial to keeping SOME positive people in treatment. And with HIV, treatment is prevention. Plus sometimes the government also helps fund the studies for new medication that pharmaceutical companies decide to later charge three grand a month to get. So there’s also that for tax payer peace of mind (sarcasm).
- And yeah, I worry about a new disease emerging too… but from ALL sexual acts, not just penetrative sex. And luckily with the internet, if a new disease does emerge, then word can spread immediately and people can go back to wrapping it up quickly.
What I love about being sex positive is that you don’t have to focus so hard on judging other people or their preferences. Judging is just bad for the soul. Of course we all do it from time-to-time. But some dole it out more heavily than others. Being judgmental is a bit like eating a donut. Sure it tastes delicious. But in the end, there’s nothing really healthy about it. It’s made up of shitty things that make you look and feel shitty the more you indulge in it.
Being sex positive gives me the benefit of treating people the way I want to be treated. I know this doesn’t sound like that big of a perk. But somewhere between grade school and adulthood, we lose total sight of this concept. Sex already has enough potential for guilt and shame. If you sleep around, you don’t want to be called a slut. And if you prefer to keep it zipped up, you don’t want to be called a prude. Giving someone the respect that you want from them is, if anything, like Xanax for the soul.
In sex positivity, I don’t have to glamorize sex nor uglify it (that’s a real word!). I don’t have to feel shameful to talk openly or casually about sex with my friends. Although I may tone down it down in public so that I don’t accidentally blurt out the phrase “his dick was like a Subway sandwich” upon unsuspecting strangers - because being sex positive also means respecting their boundaries too. But I certainly don’t have to tolerate slut-shaming of any gender.
Plus being sex positive seems to keep drama relatively low. While writing this essay, I stopped to fold some laundry on the guest bed (it’s the flattest surface with the least amount of dog hair). I noticed an opened bottle of lube on the side table and the throw pillow laying on the floor. Logically, my partner probably entertained a gentleman friend during one of my recent bartending shifts. While it certainly had me curious, it didn’t bump any of my jealousy bones.
While being sex positive doesn’t mean you have to become swingers, it does include owning your own sexuality and not concerning yourself with others’. It also encourages folks to talk openly, and without judgement, about sexuality. In Eric Barry’s HuffPo piece that I mentioned above, he also describes a tough sexual moment where he acknowledged that communication (or lack thereof) helped him process it with rational thinking instead of rage.
Being sex positive has also helped me become more body positive. Sexuality and the human body tend to go hand-in-hand. And as mental health often boasts, positive thinking and gratitude are often contagious. Not carrying around a negative attitude about one gave me a sense of self-assurance which then gracefully infected the other. Of course, there are times when I still feel guilty about sex or I pick at the things I don’t like about my body. But in general, I am a comfortable, confident, happy guy.
But best of all, sex positivity gives me the benefit of not having to be right about everything. Dr. Phil once said “You can either be right or you can be happy.” I know Dr. Phil is kind of annoying and while I wish it would've been Buddha or Gandhi who said this, the words still hold a lot of truth. Twenty-something Scott had to be right about everything. But he was also a miserable bastard. Eventually I learned that the taller you sit on that high horse, the harder it is to reach other people. Trust me, it gets kind of lonely up there.
I don’t think people, like our friend Tom, necessarily set out to be sex negative. Some of you may even agree with Tom’s message. However there’s something to be said for the fact that even prior to PrEP, studies showed that condom usage wasn’t all that great amongst gay men (and other kinds of humans) anyway. PrEP certainly isn’t perfect. But neither are condoms. Sure, some people use both and that’s fantastic. Except when they become adamant that other’s do exactly the same, they fail to realize that nowadays… they are the exception, not the norm.
Wanting people to use condoms (in addition to PrEP) to prevent HIV is a bit like wanting teenagers to use abstinence to prevent pregnancies. Yeah, it’s totally ideal. But it just isn’t all that realistic. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. So we can either shame them to make our preferred choices, or we can equip them with the best tools we’ve got. Not just with condoms and not just with PrEP, but also with a healthy attitude. Besides, in the end, you just can’t spell “stud” without STD.
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