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The Gay Blade

27th March 2008

If only it were that simple.

Posted by: Michael Stevens

So I see the idea of “Negotiated Safety” (NS) has been re-appearing, both here on the message boards and in the rag. Actually, that’s unfair, Mark Farnworth in express actually wrote a fairly good, if historically uninformed piece on the topic. And at first glance it is easy to see why people go “Why doesn’t NZAF push this idea…?”

NS was first “named’ by the Australians, Kippax et al, in 1993 if my memory serves me right. They claimed they had ‘identified’ it as a strategy being used by gay men to avoid getting HIV.

I guess Mark was still in primary school when this first surfaced back in the early 90s. Official NS goes something like this: you and the guy you’re with go through a 3 month minimum process of discussing the idea, figuring out how much you trust each other, how easily you can talk about your sex-lives honestly and openly (and that’s never a problem, right?), with a counsellor,  then it’s about getting tested, sharing your test results, waiting another month or so, and keeping on talking about it all, getting tested again, and then promising never to fuck around without condoms and put your partner at risk. Whoopee ! No-one has ever lied to their partner about sleeping round, right? And once you get out of the habit of using rubbers, just how many more chances are there for a little slip-up with someone you’re playing with on the side?

Now, that 3 month minimum “talk, test,talk,test,trust” idea was one thing, but what was seen immediately after this was promoted was that guys were meeting in bars and fuck-clubs and “negotiating” their safety over a few beers while feeling horny.

Horny gay men took it as an excuse to throw away condoms.

Well duh!

And HIV infection rates in Sydney went up.

Well, double duh!

Let’s face it. Gay men have been making their own risk assessments around HIV since we first identified the virus back in 1981. Some times guys have decided that the other guy looks “clean” (God I hate that word about being HIV-) and therefore it’s all fine. Sometimes they even ask each other if they have HIV, and trusting the other guy to tell the truth, move on that. The thing is there is nothing new here folks. We’ve been doing it since Year Zero of the epidemic. And yes, HIV+ guys will more often than not throw away the rubbers if they’re with another poz guy.

The trouble with this is that NS is not that effective a strategy for safe sex promotion, for keeping HIV negative men HIV negative, which is what organisations like NZAF are charged with.

Let me give you a comparison. Let me confess, there are times I get into my car and drive when I would be over the limit. I have never once been caught, nor have I ever once caused an accident driving this way. So I must be able to drive anytime I like when I have been drinking, right? Or maybe I’ve just been very, very lucky?

I can’t imagine the LTSA ever saying “Gee, a lot of people seem to be able to drive without killing anyone after a few too many, let’s start a campaign about how to drive a bit more safely when you’re pissed.” That is what NS effectively amounts to.

Does the Cancer Society tell you how to smoke safely? No? Why not I wonder, after all, my grandfather smoked from the age of 12 and died when he was 84. Mean Cancer Society must be hiding something from us, those killjoys.

Of course you can “negotiate”, and guys have been doing it and will continue to do it, no doubt about that. But to claim it is a good idea to promote it in terms of getting an HIV prevention message across, sorry, I can’t agree with that.

Part of my research involves interviewing guys about how they got infected. And I have at least one gay guy who was in what he thought was an honest, loving committed relationship, where they decided not to use condoms, and he got infected by his partner. They “negotiated” their safety, (I don’t have it, do you? No, cool…) except the HIV+ guy was so freaked out about his condition he couldn’t admit he was positive and that every time he put his dick up his boyfriend’s arse he was exposing him to HIV . So much for love and trust protecting you.

Yes, gay men will go on making their own risk assessments, as they have done since the start of the plague. Sometimes they’ll get away with it. But not always.

The idea that NZAF or any other organisation charged with promoting safe sex and with a special responsibility for gay men would push this as a safe strategy is just dumb. If you believe that it is a good thing, you really don’t get what the NZAF is there for. Guys do it, have done it, and will continue to doit, but it’s not a safe-sex strategy.
If you want to make sure you don’t get HIV, but want to enjoy a good sex-life, then use rubbers and lube.

I can guarantee you that every year some guys in New Zealand will practice a form of NS, just as we have since the 80s, and that some of them will get infected by people they thought they loved and could trust and some by total strangers they “negotiated” with in a bar the night before.

Tags: General

30 responses so far ↓

  • 1 angel--boi // Mar 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    This is exactly what I have been trying to put into words! Thank you!! and the comparisons are so appropriate!

  • 2 kotare // Mar 28, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Great blog Michael. As you said, NS is an old idea. It’s great to finally read an advocate who’s up with the play, and isn’t afraid to point out its very real and human flaws.
    On top of that, I know some boys in relationships who’ve thrown away the condoms basically out of pressure and emotional blackmail from their partner, nothing more, and certainly not because of any spurious argument about “intimacy” or “making babies”. So thanks for sticking up for guys who want to keep using condoms and don’t buy the bullshit about “no condoms = he loves me more”. It’s a virus, stupid!

  • 3 Mark Farnworth // Mar 28, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    It seems to me that you have launched a diatribe with the intention of rebuffing my comments. Comments, I may add, that I’m not sure I made. At no point did I suggest that NZAF should use “NS” as a viable method of HIV prevention, in fact I think the last sentence or two says, succinctly, exaxtly what you’re saying here. People will always step beyond the realms of anything but zero tolerance.
    The main question I was asking was why homosexual men are asked to “distrust” loving partners more than heterosexual men and women. Likewise if unprotected sex is denigrated (much as it was in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the UK advertising I remember only too well) then it is hard to perceive an environment in which people can admit to having had unsafe sex (and subsequently seek help) without feeling “judged” by society and friends.
    Incidentally I saw the “positivewomen” campaign yesterday, a fantastic one too. It draws a fascinating (and hard hitting) parallel. Yes, women contract HIV from philandering husbands (and vice versa). Do we also have a zero tolerance for unprotected sex amongst heterosexuals? The answer is no. Wouldn’t it be good to see all these campaigns under one banner? Equality in HIV prevention strategies perhaps?
    I would also like to confess something (much like your drink driving, something I’ve never done). I had a 6 year monogamous relationship with a man and we didn’t use condoms. I trusted and loved him and saw this as an extension of that trust. I am still HIV negative (I get tested every 6 months). I say this, not because I think it a right choice, but because I don’t feel I should be ashamed of that choice.
    NS is still part of any dialogue surrounding HIV prevention, if not an “out there” message. Oh and to finish, just because I did it that doesn’t mean I think everyone (or anyone) should, but as you point out “we” have been doing lots of things for a very long time, maybe even when you were in primary school.

  • 4 angel--boi // Mar 28, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    My Point of view is that condoms should not be used as leverage of “how much you trust/love me” It should be seen that condoms are a way of protecting not only yourself but also each other. With some guys, there is no way 100% from any test to say you are negative or positive straight away, and it may give you false results (i have had a false positive before) they need to have a series of tests before you can confirm their status.

    I have seen -all too often- guys get into a relationship and then suddenly the condoms are off. Some dont even wait a month!!! This is a rediculous behaviour that needs to be addressed. Not only because of HIV but also other STI’s.

    Mark, I really like your suggestion of a unified organisation that deals with HIV prevention and Support strategies. Bea whom I met from Pos Women has an amazing story herself, and it’s so completely different to my experience with the virus, but we have that common goal! Equality I definitely agree needs to even be inclusive from our side too.

  • 5 kotare // Mar 28, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Mark, I find your insinuation that homosexual relationships are no different from heterosexual relationships interesting, because i think it thoroughly confuses “equality” with “sameness”.

    Sure, we can love each other just as much as the next straight couple, and can even get civil unionised now. But does that make our relationship “styles” the same? Does that mean we have the same expectations and roles? Does it mean that the sexual environment is the same, and the boundaries are drawn in the same places? The answers are surely no, no, no and no! The sexual realities of male-male relationships are very different from female-male relationships, in particular when it comes to sex outside (or sex with three or more inside…).

    Sex with men other than your boyfriend is commonplace, please let’s put that on the table. Some couples talk about it, many prefer not to, or wouldn’t even if they were pressed. It strikes me as counter-productive, conservative even to pretend otherwise.

    Are all straight couples monogamous? No, of course not. Are straight couples as non-monogamous as gay couples? Emphatically no. Is this a problem? Not unless you think that sexual monogamy is THE defining aspect of a relationship that gives it all its meaning and value, greater even than if you love each other deeply, treat each other decently, fluff the pillow, care for each other when you’re sick etc…

    So when you seem to accuse Michael of some sort of gay/straight relationship apartheid involving HIV prevention messages (I think you were close to calling it discriminatory and unjustified), I think it really does smack of naivety. All Michael is doing is pointing out what I expect any sensible, realistic, grounded gay man with a modicum of experience to do – describe reality (not ideology), pinpoint hypocrisy (not indulge in it), and reinforce the central message that keeps HIV out of our bodies and enables us to have colourful, stress-free sex lives: condoms are verifiably safe, other strategies less so.

    I don’t think anyone or any organisation should shy away from this, even if it makes some men in relationships uncomfortable. Hopefully, with the support of the community, organisations like NZAF can make it easier for guys to adopt condoms in many different contexts, especially if men have trouble insisting on condoms in difficult situations like when they’re drunk, high, facing a hot lay or an uninformed partner.

    Add in the fact that HIV is much more present in our communities, and things look very different. Though, it must be mentioned, if you’re a heterosexual in South Africa then yes you will be challenged to use condoms in your relationship too.

    Actually – wait – maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be asked to wait until marriage. Or be monogamous for life. Or even better, abstinent. So I guess it’s a toss up: Accept that our organisations like NZAF should be promoting condoms, or get your advice from somewhere else. I’ve seen NZAF operate for over 15 years, and I can tell you that it’s a better deal for gay men than the disconnected unrealistic moralistic anti-gay approaches you’ll get from other places. Family Health International anyone? Parenting with Confidence?

    So I don’t think Michael should apologise for his no-nonsense blog. And if you’re going to write a piece on something as important as HIV without doing your homework, then you’re not really entitled to feel aggrieved. Some of us who’ve lost friends to AIDS after being infected in a relationship find it insulting. There’s enough lazy gay media in this country, good on Michael and a handful of other strugglers for being a shining light.

  • 6 portmanteau // Mar 29, 2008 at 2:32 am

    Nice try …. but typical head in the sand response on behalf of an organisation which cannot string together any response for itself.

    Try dropping your theories, and look at what is actually happening. Your preaching will achieve nothing.

  • 7 portmanteau // Mar 29, 2008 at 2:50 am

    angel–boi // Mar 28, 2008 at 4:16 pm said:

    “I have seen -all too often- guys get into a relationship and then suddenly the condoms are off. Some dont even wait a month!!! This is a rediculous behaviour that needs to be addressed. ”

    You have? Wow, i thought You had been in a monogamous relationship yourself for some years, yet you have SEEN this?

    Once again, why don’t you start writing your own crap, instead of having NZAF write it for you?

  • 8 Craig Young // Mar 29, 2008 at 10:33 am

    As far as I’m concerned, human nature is human nature. Gay men have a variable number of sexual partners and even in the case of a supposedly monogamous relationship on one side of the ledger, there’s nothing stopping the other partner from playing around and possibly having unsafe sex, so ‘negotiated safety’ won’t work.

    Excellent work.
    Craig Y

  • 9 portmanteau // Mar 29, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    the sign of a lame blog - you moderate out divergent opinions. keep up the good work.

    .. and craig, I thought would offer rather more reasoned opinion than that!

  • 10 angel--boi // Mar 29, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    YET, you cannot deny that NS has not worked 100% in the past, can you Port?
    When ever you post on topics such as this, to me it appears that you do not understand that so many people would not have been infected with HIV or caught STI’s if they had just used condoms and lube, instead of NS.
    Understand that yes gay relationships SHOULD be treated differently to heterosexual because the number of sexual partners an ‘average’ gay man would go through in a year, even a lifetime, is considerably different to the amount of people an ‘average’ straight man, so therefore, measures need to be put in place that can assist with curbing the issue that is so prevalent in our society.

    How can you be so 100% sure about a person’s status to even consider NS anyway? how do you justify just putting 3-6 months for a window period on the shelf for the sake of having unprotected sex now? The tests cannot be guaranteed to be 100% correct without repeat testing, every sexual encounter resets that potential window period.

    NS is still being used by a lot of people, and straight people do it too (look at all the underage and young adult pregnancies).

    If you have a better idea than using condoms and lube to help prevent transmission of HIV and STIs I suggest you share it. Because from what I read in one of your posts, there are not many people I know that like to have their every move watched and scrutinized to make sure their not putting a foot out of line.

  • 11 Mark Farnworth // Mar 29, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I personally find the assertion that somehow heterosexual relationships are less diverse odd. Gay men are more likely to be open about sexual freedoms, however infidelity (as opposed to non-monogamy) is rife in heterosexuality.
    I didn’t ask for an apology or feel “aggrieved”, but once again there seems to be an assumption that I was supporting NS as a strategy for HIV prevention. I didn’t do this, however I do feel that simply dismissing dialogue on the matter as ill informed is erroneous.

  • 12 Michael Stevens // Mar 29, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    No one got deleted - you just got shifted to the spam for some reason along with the rubbish

  • 13 kotare // Mar 29, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Sorry Mark, I just re-read your piece in express and you’re right, you weren’t advocating NS as a prevention strategy. Apologies for that.

    What still interests me is this - this idea that sex outside relationships is just as common in heterosexual as in male homosexual relationships, but it’s just that gay men are more about it.

    Some straight couples have sex with other people. But not nearly as much as gay couples do. I don’t see this as a failing in any way, but I know that some gay men feel embarrassed about it, find it hard to talk about honestly, or refuse to discuss it because they “don’t want to go there”.

    I also know that when most couples are just starting out, these issues are often way off the agenda. Many couples really do want to be sexually exclusive in the early stages. Or for longer. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. The difficulty is when exclusivity isn’t as vital as when it used to be, or an opportunity crops up and one of them has sex with another guy. How do these things get dealt with when you’re not used to talking about non-monogamy? And when condoms haven’t been used in the relationship? Or when one of the partners feels more vulnerable than the other and caves in to the boyfriend who refuses to wear a rubber when he’s doing the fucking?

    I’m sure we all know of couples where at least one of the parties occasionally has sex without the other’s knowledge. What happens to the other partner when his boyfriend refuses to talk about it, denies that it happens, but still wants to have condomless sex? Who’s sticking up for the interests of the guy who’s being placed at risk?

    At least if condoms are being used in the relationship, then the only thing they have to sort out is their communication and some hurt feelings, but at least it’s not a lifelong viral infection.

    I think that’s what I like about Michael’s piece – it acknowledges the human-ness of our actual sexual interactions, not our idealised ones. Often finding out that one member of a couple has had sex with another guy brings the couple closer together, because they can dwell on it for the first time, work out what it meant, and importantly what it didn’t. There probably isn’t a way around some grief and drama in that process, but at least no-one’s risked the health of the other guy, whom I presume he loves.

    And to draw it back to prevention campaigns (Mark I think we’re on the same page here, and Craig I really agree with you there too), then I’d expect NZAF to support the guy who wants to use a condom with his partner.

    If both partners really don’t want to use them, well they’re free to and no-one ’s going to be thrown in jail. But maybe it won’t hurt them to be challenged about it once in a while, some new light might be shed on the actual risks they’re taking, and it might even save their life.

  • 14 kotare // Mar 29, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    From Angel–boi:
    “…there are not many people I know that like to have their every move watched and scrutinized to make sure their not putting a foot out of line.”

    Really apt comment too Angel–boi. And using a condom seems to me like a much simpler solution than dragging yourself to the testing clinic all the time.

  • 15 Craig // Mar 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Insofar as my earlier comments about barebacking are concerned, I suggest that portmanteau might want to read my reviews of Michael Shernoff’s Without Condoms, as well as Halkitis and Wilson’s Barebacking, the latter of which contains evidence-based information about the subject in question- and, I’m afraid, some rather confused thinking from Shernoff.

    Craig Y

  • 16 Geoff Honnor // Mar 30, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    As always, Michael offers an interesting perspective to which I thought I might contribute from the perspective of someone who has been working in gay men’s prevention in Sydney for the last 10 or so years.

    Michael correctly points to the origins of NS in behavioural analysis conducted by Australia’s National Centre in HIV Social Research, which was subsequently applied in educational practice by ACON (a process led by a Kiwi, Paul Kinder) and other Australian agencies from around 1996. NS has also been adopted in Europe and the UK but has been resolutely rejected in the US and NZ.

    As is usually the case, researchers were guided by the adaptive practices of gay men and NS – far from being some sort of open slather licence – was an attempt to define a relationship-based context for seroconcordant unprotected sex. As an aside, rather than “open slather,” I suspect that one of the major unexpected by-products of NS was poz/poz serosorting – another community-constructed adaptive practice that researchers didn’t invent :)

    It’s important to note that NS is not and never has been about casual sex. Some commenters seem to be confusing it with neg/neg serosorting, in casual settings - more accurately, “seroguessing” - but it’s always been about a primary relationship within which a seroconcordant couple negotiate an agreement around maintaining prevention practice - with each other and with others - and commit to maintaining it.

    Michael is absolutely right to identify, “committing to maintaining it,” as the hard part. Lots of subsequent research points to the resilience of the relationship agreement as the critical success factor.

    http://www.acon.org.au/taking_action/index.cfm?doc_id=1507&cat_id=96

    However, I think he’s wrong in claiming that the
    advent of NS led to widespread adoption of unsafe sex in casual situations on the one hand (though his lively depiction of it would make a great porn preamble) and a rise in HIV notifications on the other.

    In NSW, NS was first offered as a risk reduction strategy in mid 1996. In 1996, 447 new HIV notifications were reported in NSW - an annual total that hasn’t been exceeded since. In fact, the annual total has been stable at around 390, give or take 10 people or so, for the last decade.

    I certainly don’t claim this as “success” but neither is it fairly described as the sort of surging infections failure that Michael imputes to the adoption of NS.

    It’s certainly true that inadequate NS agreements (or lack of agreements) can and do lead to serococonversion (though you’d need to factor in the much less discussed aspect of the many NS agreements that work to get a realistic sense of the overall failure rate) but I’d argue that these represent a tiny drop in the bucket of reasons as to why HIV infection rates have increased among gay men across the developing world in recent years – which is a whole different discussion.

    Over to the NZAF (whose work I greatly admire) but I don’t think that the whole NZ prevention edifice would come crashing down if NS was discussed, in pro and con terms, in HIV health promotion and education. As far as I can see, sole reliance on the, “condom every time,” approach has had mixed success and certainly no more success than in comparable jurisdictions where broader harm reduction approaches have been incorporated.

  • 17 Mark Farnworth // Mar 31, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    The straw poll on the main page suggests that a significant number of respondents (48/176) do not use condoms in a committed relationship, further conversation with friends has yielded similar responses (from those who are both monogamous and non-monogamous). This indicates that, although NS need not be an “out there message” it is certainly one that needs to be explicitly addressed.
    As for the “trust” issue, the general concensus from the people I spoke to is that to practice a system of agreed NS (and the trust that it requires) is preferable to having a relationship where you feel you cannot trust your partner to put your health at the forefront. It was likened to the self-fulfilling prophecy of “pre-nuptial” agreements.
    Further personal research has also identified (As I think Geoff asserts) that although “NS policy” coincided with a rise in HIV infection it has not been absolutely identified as a causal factor. Having had a relationship with somone that works in Edinburgh’s “Harm Reduction” initiative (both gay men and IV drug users) I am (casually) aware of the need for integrated strategies, there was even discussion circa 2004 in the Lothian region of Scotland that suggested some new infections may not be related to penetrative sex at all, but “unsafe” oral sex (6% was the number from memory). I’m interested to know if this is spurious, or if, in fact, there is evidence.

  • 18 angel--boi // Mar 31, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Unsafe Oral sex has been identified as a causal factor of HIV transmission. Though in NZ where the number of new MSM HIV cases each year is small, the majority of cases that will show in any community are from highest to lowest;

    Receptive Anal (bottom) - no condom
    Insertive Anal (top) - no condom
    Receptive Anal (bottom) - with a condom
    Receptive Oral (giving head) - no condom
    Insertive Oral (receiving) - no condom
    Insertive Anal (top) - with a condom
    Receptive Oral (giving head) - with a condom
    Insertive Oral (receiving) - With a condom
    [refer: http://www.nzaf.org.nz/articles.php?id=817]

    So there is evidence of transmission through protected and unprotected oral sex, and even though on the graph it may look minimalistic and/or similar risk, there is a notable difference in that protected oral has the greatest chance of reducing that risk to near zero.

  • 19 Matthew // Mar 31, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Ever thought that maybe getting guys to take relationships seriously - as loving long term relationships rather than merely a friendship with has cock/ass when ever available. If you can’t remained committed to one person, then quite frankly, you have issues - big issues. Stay off men until you get those issues sorted out.

  • 20 Geoff Honnor // Apr 1, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    “So there is evidence of transmission through protected and unprotected oral sex’

    I’m unaware of any evidence that would support transmission through protected oral sex.

    There is some anecdotal evidence of transmission for receptive partners in unprotected sex but the risk is very low and seems to be reliant on exceptionally high infectivity in the insertive partner and ulcerated gums etc in the receptive partner.

    I’m not aware of the Scottish study that Mark cites but it’s worth remembering that we’re reliant on self-reporting in respect of the likely transmission route for people newly diagnosed and in the early years of the epidemic it wasn’t uncommon for guys to opt for identifying the comparative “respectability” of oral sex as the likely source.

    The NZAF describes the risk of oral sex this way:

    “Oral sex with a man and not getting cum in your mouth is very low-risk sex. Getting cum in your mouth is not as safe. Pre-cum can also contain HIV, but in much smaller quantities than cum. Potentially, HIV can get into your bloodstream through cuts and sores (such as ulcers) in your mouth. Even so, this is still nowhere near as risky as fucking without condoms.”

    And I agree.

  • 21 Mark Farnworth // Apr 2, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Another interesting point from Geoff. Self-report, even when anonymous, is often mediated by a person’s sense of being judged by the reader/interviewer.
    As such people may not only adopt an answer similar to “I don’t have anal sex so it must have come from oral sex” but may also use “The condom broke” and “He said he was negative” as coverup for simply not having the wherewithal to use protection.
    Again this kind of “deception” may possibly increase in situations where campaigns are absolute and suggest “if you make a mistake it’s because you don’t care”.
    Does anyone think it possible that, in a small scene such as AKL, things may be under reported by virtue of the fact that everybody knows somebody? Anonymity of discussion/error/diagnosis is hard to ensure.
    As for Matthew’s comment, although I myself do not go for “open” relationships, I feel it is knee-jerk to condemn those that do. I tend to be bothered by those that “cheat” as opposed to those that engage additional encounters with the full knowledge of their significant other.

  • 22 Matthew // Apr 2, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    As for Matthew’s comment, although I myself do not go for “open” relationships, I feel it is knee-jerk to condemn those that do. I tend to be bothered by those that “cheat” as opposed to those that engage additional encounters with the full knowledge of their significant other.

    Dear god, what is it with this culture of relativism; when is someone going to stand up and say, “no, that is wrong, that is unacceptable - get your act together”. Just because we are gay doesn’t mean its a damn free for all and we can’t at least have some damn standards which we uphold ourselves to. Set some damn moral standards and jolly well stick to them.

    Stop coming up with this new age clap trap of “we fuck others when in a relationship, that makes us modern, open minded and hip”. We wonder why the world at large look down and gay people and we have hair brained concepts of “open relationships” being trotted out as if it were some sort of damn bell weather to the openmindedness of an individual.

    This is half the reason for the spread of HIV/AID’s, no one has the balls to stand up and say that a set group of behaviour is unacceptable and the cause of it spreading - we’re all too worried about being ’sensitive’, ‘open minded’ and ‘not critical’. Its about time a spade is called spade.

  • 23 kotare // Apr 3, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Though I don’t agree with everyone here, the quality of argument is much better than the toxic obsessive compulsive pap in the message boards!

    All the evidence I’ve read over the years tells me oral sex is very very low risk. As someone once put it, if HIV was easy to catch during oral sex, there’d be a lot more gay men infected. But like everything there’s bound to be the odd unfortunate exception.

    Despite what you might think I also agree with aspects of Matthew’s point - that gay men shouldn’t necessarily see open relationships as a badge of their sexual sophistication. I don’t see anything wrong with the aspirational value of monogamous relationships either.

    Pointing out that open relationships among gay men are 1) very common and 2) ok isn’t inconsistent with that. I think what I am trying to argue is that there’s still a culture of denial about our sexual habits. I don’t have a problem with monogamous relationships, nor do I have a problem with open ones in the way that Matthew does.

    The problem IS that I don’t believe we’re very honest about the amount of extra-partner sex going on. And for completely understandable reasons (hurt feelings, heterosexual norms, jealousy etc). One I run into constantly is the lack of appropriate language available to us to talk about these relationships, arrangements, events etc. I cringe when I hear the word “affair”, or “cheating”, or “unfaithful”. They just don’t seem to apply to most of the situations they’re used to describe.

    The other problem, as I see it, is how this affects HIV prevention.

    I agree Matthew that sex outside relationships is a factor in infections - if condoms aren’t used. But I don’t believe the answer is to re-wire gay men and encourage more monogamy. Nor do I believe that relationships alone, regardless of how much couples “talk” and “trust”, can protect partners from HIV as effectively as condoms do.

  • 24 Dogbrook // Apr 9, 2008 at 5:44 am

    Michael is wrong when he writes: “If you want to make sure you don’t get HIV, but want to enjoy a good sex-life, then use rubbers and lube.”

    Condoms break. Some gay men get infected this way. Is Michael partly responsible because he pushes condoms on people?

    And why is this level of risk (getting fucked with a condom by multiple partners of unknown status) acceptable when condomless intercourse with a trusted partner also believed to be HIV negative is not?

    If you must tell gay men what (not) to do, why not tell them to avoid fucking?

  • 25 Mark Farnworth // Apr 14, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I decided to revisit, and I’m interested to note Dogbrook’s point. Matthew on the other hand has to realise the cultural universalism is far harder to uphold that relativism. What “I” think wrong is unimportant, the need for universal “wrongs” is precisely what causes things like the “family values march” of Destiny Church.

  • 26 Willow // Apr 16, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    As with any push to change behaviour, the carrot and/or stick approach has always been applied.

    I think the rise in HIV rates has more to do with the fact that HIV is no longer a death sentence (the stick has become smaller). With the cocktail of drugs available and the message that HIV+ men can live normal lives (to de-stigmatise HIV+ people) , most gay men have become less concerned amount HIV infection.

    It is my opinion that the move to de-stigmatise HIV+ people is working against actions to decrease HIV infection rates.

    Something has to give and in this case, it is the HIV infection rates.

  • 27 Theo // Jul 8, 2008 at 12:00 am

    “But I don’t believe the answer is to re-wire gay men and encourage more monogamy”.

    But you believe in “re-wiring” gay men to encourage condom use. Typical condom nazi talking out of both sides of his mouth, pretending to be concerned with a higher standard of behavior, but ultimately prioritizing the principle of lust at every moment. Going outside a relationship that was supposed to be monogamous, and other sexual health related dishonesty with one’s partner is seen as merely “human”, but lack of condom use between two people is inherently a poor choice, which of course is because everyone is to be automatically viewed as HIV positive. Essentially, you’re having sex with an HIV positive person (even if they’re not HIV positive) with this “logic”. This nonsense is what’s encouraged in gay culture, instead of the adoption of the same actions by couples that anyone as an individual must use to ensure that he/she is HIV negative. But apparently the motto “every
    man for himself” is more popular than sacrificing for the other in a relationship. Never will the condom nazi admit to his part in HIV incidents through his tireless effort to destigmatize
    non-monogmous arrangements and denying the fact that monogamy when *actually* utilized is a damn good safeguard against a (properly tested) negative couple’s opportunity to seroconvert. Condoms aren’t the answer. If this type of garbage lifestyle, (whereby you are the bad guy for not expecting everyone to be a potential liar to only have the lie rationalized) is all that a young gay man can expect to have, he’d be better off alone with his hand. Abstinence is better that this.

  • 28 Theo // Jul 8, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Incidentally, those who would attempt to rationalize dishonest behaviors as merely “human” may as well be defense attorney for those guilty of criminal HIV transmission. Despite the spin, the decision of one party of a negative couple to step outside the pretty strong fortress of monogamy, and infect the other partner is basically the same thing as CTHIV.

  • 29 slupy // Sep 17, 2008 at 12:23 pm

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  • 30 Howie // Oct 17, 2008 at 8:04 am

    I as a gay mean recently diagnosed,also needs to let guys know that it may not show up for up to five years in your blood,and as we all know some gay men have had several ‘relationships’ in that time period where safe or safer sex may or may not have taken place for whatever reason,then show later on…

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