In its e-newsletter Liberty Line yesterday, the Liberty Education Forum referenced a Washington Post article on a support group for young HIV-positive men. A number of things struck me about the article, notably the number of gay men who continue to engage in unprotected intercourse. If it’s true, as we’re told, that this virus is one of the most difficult to transmit, why is it that so many gay men refuse to take the simple precaution to protect themselves?
The article notes that a Center for Disease Control “study of men who have sex with men released last month reported that out of 10,000 men surveyed, 47 percent said they’ve had unprotected anal intercourse with men in the previous year.”
Marsha Martin, head of D.C.’s AIDS office, makes sense when she says “the urgency of the HIV prevention messages we’ve been sending — safe sex only! use a condom! — has worn off.” She, however, also tries to politicize gay men’s unsafe practices:
And if you think about the political and social climate we’ve been in and we’re still in, what message is that sending to gay men? ‘No, you can’t get married as gay couples.’ ‘No, you can’t be openly gay in the military.’ ‘No, you don’t have equal rights.’ Those things produce a lack of self-esteem, a kind of self-loathing, and in that environment is HIV.
I don’t think the absence of state-sanctioned gay marriage causes gay men to practice unsafe sex.
Rather than listen to the jargon of a government bureaucrat, we might better listen to the words of a young gay man who got infected by “playing unsafe.” After chatting with a guy online, he went to the man’s place “and had sex. He was lonely. He didn’t use a condom.” He was lonely and felt closer to that man “without” protection.
He was lonely.
Sometimes when we seek a human connection, we go to great lengths to secure that bond. Ms. Martin’s jargon about self-esteem doesn’t help us understand the number of gay men who have unsafe sex, even while knowing the risks. This young man’s words, that he was lonely the night of his unfortunate encounter, however, go a long way to understanding the risks some gay men take. And help us see the very human aspect of their (seemingly) irrational behavior.
In many cases, those who “play unsafe” seek a human connection and forego the latex so as to feel closer to another human being. Now, we need to find ways to to help them — to help all of us — find such connections without risking their health. That is, perhaps, the biggest challenge confronting our community — to help us better connect to one another so we feel less alone and less isolated from our fellows.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
Some of you may note the new category, (Gay) Male Sexuality & the Monogamous Ideal, in the header to this post. In a few days, I will talk a little more about it.