Alex Blaze

GQ on condoms

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 25, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV/AIDS

There's an interesting article in the current GQ about the HIV/AIDS epidemic that asks some pretty interesting questions. It's a good reminder about where we are when it comes to finding a cure or a safe vaccine (not very far), considers the possibility of never finding anything better than condoms to fight the epidemic, and discusses current AIDS prevention policy.

Here's a part of the lengthy article from right after it mentions a Swiss study that showed that some positive people could bareback without risk of passing along the virus:

Did this good news touch off celebrations here in the United States? Hardly. The Swiss study went largely ignored in the media. What's more, powerful AIDS groups rushed to condemn it. Project Inform, a national HIV clearinghouse, decried the findings as a threat to the condom code. So did a number of other groups, many of which issued stark warnings, calling the Swiss report "dangerous" and "misleading." The World Health Organization issued a joint statement with the United Nations AIDS office reiterating the need for "correct and consistent use of condoms." They share a concern that ordinary people will misinterpret the recommendation and put themselves at further risk. "Scientifically, it makes sense," Ward says. "Sociologically, it doesn't."

But these responses seem to miss the point. The problem isn't condom knowledge. The problem is condom burnout. After a quarter century, people are demanding a new approach.

I'm not an expert in either the virus or epidemiology, but much of this article spoke to my experiences and those of the gay men around me. Especially moving attention away simply from passing out information about condoms, since I know many, many gay men who are well-informed of the risks of sex without condoms and know how to use one that still bareback:

And the reason for these increases? Gay men are no longer abiding by the one commandment that dominated gay life for decades: "Use a condom every time." In survey after survey, gay men say they have stopped using condoms. "I think the last rubber gay guys used in this town was in 1985," Michael Petrelis, an AIDS blogger in San Francisco, joked when I asked him about this trend. Most young men whom I spoke with said they have sex without condoms, though few would admit it on the record. A 20-year-old Korean student in New York told me he's used condoms in the majority of the 150 or so sexual encounters he's had, but he also makes exceptions "if I really like him or feel a kind of love or something." He acknowledged this didn't really make sense, but he isn't HIV-positive yet, and he was sure he'd make exceptions in the future. A 26-year-old Bronx native, whom I spoke with one night as he lingered on Christopher Street in the West Village, spelled out an epidemiologist's (and a girlfriend's) nightmare. "If it's my baby mama, I never use them," he said. "But if it's with a guy--sometimes in the heat of the moment you lose your focus."

Gay men say they feel cheated out of the full pleasure and intimacy of sex, and many have come to perceive condoms as emblems of a still hostile world, imposed on them by a culture that continues to stigmatize gay sex. "To use a condom every time you have sex, for the rest of your life?" says Daniel Siconolfi, of New York University's HIV-prevention think tank, the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies. "That's a very, very big burden. That's a lot to ask of somebody. And it's not being asked of anybody other than gay men."

Indeed it is. That doesn't mean it's wrong to ask that it be imposed, but we should at least be able to recognize that many, many gay men see a life of using condoms each and every time as a burden and a loss.

The author goes on to take on some of the more... "grassroots" approaches to fighting the epidemic (he uses that word, I think it only applies if these techniques worked). He discusses sero-sorting and dosing up on HIV meds before having sex to create a barrier to transmission. While there isn't much to say that these actually are reducing transmission, it does stand as proof that there are people who are looking for an alternative to condoms all the time.

Currently we don't have a big-picture solution other than abstinence and condoms, and many people are going to forgo either of those when they're looking for sex.

I'm interested to know what others thought about the article.


Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 25, 2008 6:04 PM

Indeed the search for alternatives for to condoms for risk-free (or as close to it as possible) ought to continue, and I concur with your thought that "we should at least be able to recognize that many, many gay men see a life of using condoms each and every time as a burden and a loss". But sadly too many in the current generation of gay men, born after the horrors of the early days when suffering and death were rampant in our community, often have an inadequate appreciation for where we've been. Better a long life with a lesser amount of sexual pleasure than none at all.

I agree with this - the realization that many interpret sex with condoms as a loss doesn't mean that we give up. I'm thinking that maybe we look for solutions outside of just education and the normal, superliminal fanfare (superliminal? "Hey, wrap it up!" "OK, will do!").

I'm not all that creative though. So I guess I'm pointing out a problem and not giving a solution! Don't tar and feather me!

I'm also going to say that it's not just a generational thing, since I've known and seen many men who were old enough to have witnessed the beginning of the AIDS epidemic first-hand not bareback. It seems more like a "sign of the times" to me.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 25, 2008 8:57 PM

But sadly too many in the current generation of gay men, born after the horrors of the early days when suffering and death were rampant in our community, often have an inadequate appreciation for where we've been.

Having lived in the Bay Area at the height of the epidemic, seen the amaciated young gay men making their slow way with canes through the Castro, and lost too many friends and acquaintances, I couldn't agree with you more, Don.

At the same time, I understand condom fatigue.

Alex, in my opinion we need to distinguish among occasional condom-less lapses, the informed decision not to use condoms when both men are HIV -/+ or in a long-term relationship, and the uninformed, and thoughtless, almost self-destructive refusal to use condoms on a regular basis when tricking.

Like in drug-use, "Just say no," doesn't work. We need a nuanced approach to safer-sex that realistically recognizes the challenges posed by long-term condome-use, as well as the varying degrees of risk in different behaviors.

"To use a condom every time you have sex, for the rest of your life?" says Daniel Siconolfi, of New York University's HIV-prevention think tank, the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies. "That's a very, very big burden. That's a lot to ask of somebody. And it's not being asked of anybody other than gay men."

I don't understand this mentality. It seems born out of culture of unearned entitlement. I think some warped individuals think they are entitled to condomless and consequenceless sex. That doesn't even exist for straight people.

"it's not being asked of anybody other than gay men". Gay men are not being asked to worry about pregnancy scares. Gay men don't typically find themselves wondering if there's a baby, child, or young adult out there that they've fathered but never met. They're not likely to open the door one day to find some stranger standing there saying "hello, Dad". Gay men don't have to worry that an ex is going to sue them for child support for a baby they concieved without knowing. Gay men certainly don't have to wonder if their girlfriend/trick stopped taking the pill and poked holes in the condoms in an attempt to get pregnant and forcing the father to marry her or at least stay in her life in some respect.

I think if we added up the costs of abortions, child support, custody battles, paternity suits, and the premature aging that happens to everyone once they've reproduced -- I think gay men might be coming out of this even.

I really don't get the "I don't want to wear a condom every time" mentality. It's not a difficult thing to put on. It doesn't take hours of preparation, nor are they expensive. Putting a condom on is easier than brushing your teeth!

Really? I don't think that there are all that many cases of women tricking men into getting them pregnant, and I don't think the average straight man thinks about it enough to use a condom every time.

Alex, I don't have any data, but I've known several instances in which a woman has decided the best way to "keep her man" is to get pregnant. So they stop taking the pill and either sabotage the condom, or convince him that it's okay not to wear it. You've never heard of a woman thinking or saying that having a baby will "save" her marriage? It's fairly common for some women to think that, and now it's something that some unmarried women think about.

What I was pointing out, in essence, is that it's not gay men are the only ones who should wear condoms every time. Straight people may not be worried as much about HIV, but gay men don't have to worry about unplanned pregnancy. If you look at HIV stats worldwide, it's clear that gay men aren't the only ones who should wear condoms every time.
I just don't get it. I grew up in the 80's and 90's, I had a lecture every 3 months on HIV/AIDS, to me, condoms go with sex the way bread goes with a sandwhich. I don't get the "burden" part of this. They're not heavy, they're everywhere, and they take like 2 seconds to put on. Does no one have foreplay anymore or talk to their partner?

and Jim, it's not condoms or abstinence....did everyone forget about oral and manual sex? Frottage? I recall it being said that if gay men traded unprotected anal sex for unprotected oral sex, the transmission rate would fall like a brick and virtually stop the pandemic in the gay community.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis? That's taking the cocktail beforehand, right? Uh, isn't the cocktail expensive and also does a number on your system? Isn't there a lengthy list of unpleasant side-effects?

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 26, 2008 12:25 PM

"I don't think that there are all that many cases of women tricking men into getting them pregnant, and I don't think the average straight man thinks about it enough to use a condom every time."

I'm not aware of any studies to support or refute either of those propositions, but have a feeling that there are more instances than you might suppose, Alex.

Jason's comment about "consequentless sex" resonates highly with me. It's so true in many areas, and the young aren't the only ones who engage in what more often than not is simply emotionally-based denial of the law of cause and effect. If one can de-couple (fully or partially) an effect from a cause, great. But simply whining about the fact that the consequences exist and somehow justifying the behavior because of it makes no sense whatsoever, whether it's condoms and sex, or driving a tank and complaining about the price at the pump.

Hey there!

There is a lot going on to create safe, effective and acceptable options for safer sex that go beyond latex.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis - by 2009, we will have around 20,000 people all over the world testing this out to see if it works.

Vaccines.

Microbicides, both vaginal and rectal. For more info on rectal, pls check out the home of IRMA here www.rectalmicrobicides.org (Intl Rectal Microbicide Advocates)

And we currently have post-exposure prophylaxis available - but not widely promoted, sadly.

We absolutely MUST have options, choices, a "prevention buffet." It is ridiculous, magical thinking, to believe that condoms are the only answer beyond abstinence (also a thoroughly ridiculous strategy not acceptable to most humans on the planet.)