Canada
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Why we talk about sex

We can't let stroller moms derail our visibility

“Water sports (piss play) appears to be very low risk of transmitting HIV; water sports can be made even safer by avoiding getting piss in your or someone else’s mouth, ass, pussy, or open cuts.”

This little tidbit of safe sex advice comes from Capital Xtra’s sister publication, The Guide, a gay travel magazine. It’s the water sports entry, part of a list of sex practices assessed as high, medium, or low risk in a Guide-sponsored public service announcement. A reader wanting to spice up their sex life can learn that piss and scat play, for instance, are safer ways to walk on the wild side than, say, bareback sex.

I took a copy to a girlfriend’s house a while ago, and our friends found it so entrancing that one of them read the whole thing aloud.

Perfect.

Twenty years of AIDS activism teaches that when it’s a matter of health, sexual frankness is a must. And that includes sexy visuals, which, as it turns out, are a good way to attract eyeballs to your sexual health message.

Conversely, hedging your bets confuses audiences and dilutes the message. Dilute the message enough — couch the language, tone down the images — and it becomes a poor use of scarce prevention dollars. In short, a waste, a lost opportunity.

You’ve gotta call an ass an ass. And, even better, you’ve ought to show a little ass. Sexual health information is, after all, about sex, and there’s no sense being prudish about it. It’s a health matter and community consternation or finger-waving moralism should not be a barrier to keeping people healthy.

In September, Capital Xtra reported that Primed, a guide to safer sex for transmen “and the men who dig them,” was not being displayed in the waiting room at the Centretown Community Health Centre in Ottawa’s gay village. CCHC has been a longtime friend of the gay community, as their letter to the editor in this issue will attest. Overall, CCHC has nobly honoured its obligation to engage with Ottawa’s queer citizens for the better part of two decades.

But they said no to displaying Primed because it’s racy and it would likely make people uncomfortable. They declined to be interviewed this month for a follow-up report.

As a health centre, CCHC’s first responsibility must be to health, including sexual health, rather than to mollifying their morally and sexually conservative clients. Therefore, they should have Primed available with other literature in the waiting room. As should all health centres serving queer communities.

If challenged because they’re making the booklet available, a health centre should gently but firmly tell the client not to look at it if they are offended. If the complaint comes from a parent, staff should inform the parent that it is his or her responsibility to monitor what the child has access too. And if a child accidentally comes across the material, a parent should capitalize on the moment as a teaching opportunity.

Not that the material in Primed is even all that provocative. On the cover there are two bums. Inside, there’s a photo of two trans men in boxers and undershirts. There’s a picture of a trans man on his knees beside another fella with a strap-on. No penetrative sex is depicted. No genitals are shown — not that it should make any difference. But if the standard the material must meet is its appropriateness for a two-year-old, most frank material is going to get censored.

Since last month’s article appeared in Capital Xtra, CCHC has posted a sign saying that Primed is available if requested. While I’m happy that they took the step, it’s simply not enough.

“Hi there. I was thinking I might be interested in fucking a trans dude. Do you have any literature?”

I wouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for the booklet; actually, my curiosity is piqued (especially after reading the “Trans men loving gay men loving transmen” feature in this issue). But you can imagine how a lot of people are going to be too intimidated or bashful to get their hands on the material.

But it’s doubly disappointing to see CCHC turn its back on 20 years of AIDS prevention work that has demanded sexual frankness and wide distribution for its material. It’s as true today as it was then: health professionals simply can’t afford to kowtow to prudes when the community’s health is at stake.