Twenty-five years into the HIV pandemic paranoia about the virus still seems to dominate how we negotiate sexual risks. Gay guys aren’t to blame for that: for far too long, prevention campaigns have used a fear-based approach that speaks only to HIV-negative men and essentially says, “Poz guys are out to get you!”
This kind of messaging creates a cruel divide in the queer community with poz guys on one side and freaked out negative guys on the other. Poz guys are not out to get you. In fact, research shows that when HIV is shared, the source is usually someone who doesn’t know their own status. Do you know yours?
HIV-paranoia has another devastating outcome: it stops us from thinking rationally about how the virus is transmitted. When our sexual choices are based solely on emotions regardless of what science tells us, we may end up taking more risks than we’re comfortable with or we may stop ourselves from having some crazy, hot sex that’s well within our comfort zone. We sometimes forget that almost any sexual act — from kissing to getting fucked by six guys while the seventh one whips you — can range from low to high risk depending on what precautions we do or don’t take.
With that in mind, we’d like to address a couple of common questions we get asked about sexual risks. If our answers seem surprising, ask yourself how you personally make choices when getting it on. Is it based on scientific fact or on fear-based fiction?
OK, enough already, let’s get to the sex.
Q: “I just sucked off 30 guys at the baths — and got my cock sucked by 40. What’s my risk?”
A: Sucking cock is hot. We queer guys have a very colourful history of getting and giving blow jobs in parks, bathroom stalls, bathhouses, elevators, dance floors and sometimes, shockingly, even bedrooms. We don’t often give ourselves credit for the amazing sex and love that we share with each other — so hats off to us.
The downside can be sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which live quite contentedly in warm, moist places like your cock, balls, ass, mouth or blood. Considering that most sex involves our moist parts, it becomes an open playing field for STI transmission. Mere skin-to-skin contact can be enough to catch it. You’ve heard their names before: syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis, herpes, gonorrhoea and a few others like LGV, crabs and HIV. Syphilis is particularly common in Ottawa — infections have doubled in the past year.
Unlike other STIs, HIV is pretty hard to share through oral sex, but it is possible. Some facts you should know: 1) For the guy sucking, risk increases if you have bleeding gums, cuts (even tiny ones), sores, ulcers, burns, or recent dental work. 2) Swallowing cum doesn’t appear to increase risk but taking it in your mouth in the first place does. 3) The risk for the guy getting sucked is lower, but possible entry points for HIV include the sensitive skin of the urethra (piss slit) and cuts, sores, or abrasions on the cock.
The safest way to suck cock and avoid getting an STI, including HIV, is by getting him to wear a condom. But let’s face it, boys: a cock covered in latex ain’t so tasty and health officials are starting to realize that coaxing us into wrapping our tricks’ dicks before sucking is a message that just won’t fly. Bottom line? Decide for yourself how much risk you’re willing to take based on proven facts and your own comfort level.
Here are a few ways to make oral sex safer: 1) It’s safer to get sucked than to suck. 2) Avoid letting him blow his load in your mouth. 3) Visit a dentist if you can and brush and floss your teeth regularly. 4) That said, it’s best not to brush or floss for a couple hours of before and after sucking. 5) Get tested regularly for STIs and vaccinated for Hep A & B. Some STIs never show symptoms, but can still be passed on to others, which also increases your chances of sharing HIV.
Q: “Quick question: What are all those crazy, mindless barebackers thinking?!?”
HIV is still here, guys. Transmission rates are rising in Ottawa with two new infections every week. Unprotected anal sex is high risk for both bottoms and tops according to the Canadian AIDS Society. There’s just no way around it: condoms are the single most effective way to prevent HIV and other STI transmission.
But if you tell us that you’ve got all the scientific facts on the risks of barebacking and you still decide you want to do it, we’ll defend your right to make that informed decision.
Science shows that it’s more effective to let people make their own risk decisions than to dictate those decisions to them. Sure, it’s safer to ride a bike with a helmet, but there’ll always be some of us who don’t. In addition to helmets, there are a lot of other ways to cycle safer: wearing bright colours at night, going with the flow of traffic and choosing quieter roads.
It’s exactly the same with condoms and sex. Of course, sex is safer with condoms than without. But for some guys, sometimes, that’s not going to happen. The hysteria over condoms and barebacking can also blind us to other means of making sex safer, whether we bareback or not: 1) Ask about his status and when he last got tested. 2) Use lots of lube. 3) Pull out before you cum. 4) No enemas an hour or two before and after sex. 5) Avoid poppers while barebacking. 6) Get tested regularly for STIs. 7) When one guy is poz and the other is neg, it’s safer for the poz guy to bottom and the negative guy to top. 8) The longer and harder the fuck, the higher the risk. 9) Stick to one or two barebacking buddies.
And what ever happened to foreplay? Yeah, fucking is great, but so is smelling his armpits or licking between his nuts and his asshole or massaging his back. Get creative in the sack and earn yourself a reputation as a sought-after lover!
We want to create more opportunities for Ottawa gay guys to talk to each other about these kinds of things so we’ve created Snowblower, a festival crammed full of queer events that will last the entire month of February. Whether you’re positive or negative, a leather daddy or radical tranny, out of the closet or quite happy on the “down low,” we want to bring guys together to heat up the coldest month of the year. Check out the program and schedule at http://www.snowblower2007.ca.
Adam Graham is the Gay Men’s Prevention Coordinator at ACO. Nicholas Little is the Gay Men’s Outreach Coordinator at ACO.