The risks inherent in safe sex are not being told for a number of reasons.by Alan P. Medinger
Understandably, great numbers of gay men have sought a way to cope with the AIDS tragedy that would enable them to live with some semblance of the old life. To do this, they’ve placed their hope in one answer – safe sex. Hopefully, with some precautions, AIDS could be avoided and life could go on almost as usual. Leaders of the gay community, the media, churches, even the Surgeon General are putting forth safe sex as the answer – the only answer to the AIDS epidemic. The gay community desperately wants to believe that safe sex will work, but in their desperation could lie the seeds of further tragedy.
For many reasons, we believe that safe sex won’t work; that at best, it will only slow down the tragic toll of death in the gay community.
The risks inherent in safe sex are not being told for a number of reasons. First is the good-old American belief that we can work anything out – even have our cake and eat it, too. Second is that the alternatives to safe sex are just not acceptable to much of our population. Third is the unwillingness of many leaders in the gay community to be willing to look at the gay lifestyle realistically, particularly if it means losing ground in the hard fought efforts to gain acceptability for the gay lifestyle.
Our belief that safe sex won’t work is not based on the merits or weaknesses of the condom, although they should be considered, but is rather based on the nature of man in general, and of gay men in particular. Please take a few minutes to hear us out – even if this is a message you don’t want to hear. As you consider the following reasons why we suggest that safe sex won’t work, honestly consider your own life and behavior and the lives and behavior of your closest friends. Judge each of the following points on its own merits, not on what you so, desperately want to believe.
1. There is a great tendency for promiscuity among male homosexuals. Gays have seldom wanted to discuss this, but we all know it’s true. The most widely accepted study on this subject (Bell and Weinberg, 1978) showed that forty-three per cent of the male homosexuals in San Francisco estimated that they had had sex with more than five hundred men, twenty-eight per cent with more than one thousand. We may debate the causes of this, but few of us who have been active homosexually doubt the statistics. Sex, at that rate, indicates a tremendous propensity towards sexual addiction. Perhaps it reflects the deep, unmet needs of homosexuals; perhaps, it’s inherent in the nature of male sex – the willingness to get involved sexually without relationship; perhaps it’s totally because of society’s refusal to support stable, gay relationships. The causes don’t matter; what does matter is that a large percentage of the gay population is hooked on a lifestyle of frequent sex, a pattern of behavior that will be terribly difficult to break. Sexual restraint isn’t in the cards for a great many gay men.
2. There is the so often elusive dream of the monogamous relationship. Even before AIDS, most gay men longed for that one guy to whom they could commit their life, that one special man with whom they could settle down in a permanent, faithful relationship. Now, more than ever, that kind of relationship is sought after as a protection against AIDS. But we know what happens most of the time. You settle into this kind of relationship and in three months, or six months, it falls apart and you’re off looking for another “permanent” relationship. But with each new relationship comes a new set of exposures. And within each new relationship, how many times has he (or you) cheated? True, there is a much greater motivation to settle down with one person now, but the difficulties in finding that person haven’t decreased.
3. We have to consider the nature of “passion.” Here we’re not dealing with just gays; we’re dealing with human nature. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of sexual interest, arousal, and excitement, and our ability to use sound judgment. Men have a terrible propensity to do stupid and careless things in the heat of passion. Perhaps, you went out not intending to connect, but you met somebody new and got carried away. Perhaps, you and your partner agreed to abstain from certain kinds of sex, or agreed to use a condom, but in the heat of it all, you threw caution and rational behavior to the wind. The world is filled with people whose parents used condoms faithfully – most of the time.
4. Sex is often accompanied by drinking or drugs. Take the risks just described and multiply them many times over if you’ve been drinking. In that setting, the best intentions become almost worthless.
5. “It won’t happen to me.” Mankind has a streak of irrationality in him that defies understanding. The cigarette smoker, the drinking driver, the gay who takes a chance just this one time, all operate on that fantasy that it won’t happen to them. Often it does.
6. Great numbers of gay men who have tested HIV positive, are still sexually active. Those who have not tested positive or don’t have AIDS can only imagine the emotional state of those who find they are infected. But we do see the responses: despair, hopelessness, denial, fatalism. Some plunge into homosexual activity with a vengeance. Some turn bitter. This is not to condemn those individuals; who knows how we would act, but many who know they are carriers, are very active sexually. And many overwhelmed with their own distress are not protecting their partners.
7. Many refuse to be tested. Often those who are most likely to be infected are the most fearful of being tested. Many of these are still very active, sometimes cynically, sometimes naively, sometimes with an attitude of: “We’re all going to die anyway.” All this says that safe sex is, at best, only going to slow down the toll of death and suffering. safe sex, if used, is somewhat effective, but a realistic look at man, at gay men in particular, and especially at ourselves, says that there will be just too many times when safe sex won’t be used – and those times over the next several years could cost you your life.
So what is the answer? It’s pretty obvious, although it’s probably not what you want to hear. The answer is abstinence. Please, before you turn away, consider this option. It may be the only one that can save your life.
Take a few more minutes and consider the following:
Sexual abstinence is possible. It’s only a fairly recent idea that we have to have sex. Surely, mankind does not always live up to his lofty moral standards, but abstinence is possible for many people.
There actually are some very positive things to be said for abstinence, especially for those who have found that their sexual needs have controlled their lives. To break the power of addictive sexual behavior can be tremendously liberating – opening a person up to new kinds of relationships, whole new areas of interest. For so many, what was at first thought to be sexual freedom, has become sexual bondage, and abstinence has become the only way to break that bondage.
As with many forms of life-dominating behavior, total abstinence may be easier than constant restraint. Making daily decisions as to how far we can go can be far more difficult than making the one big decision to try to live abstinently.
Sexual abstinence often frees people to discover the needs that were driving them into sex in the first place; the needs for love, affirmation, and intimacy, needs that were short-circuited by the frequent sexual fix. Recognizing those needs, a person can start to seek new ways to meet them – ways that are not life-threatening.
Abstinence is an extremely hard road to follow, but there are people who will help. Great numbers of people in many organizations listed on this Web site have found that sexual abstinence does work.
This may be the point at your life in which you have to make the hardest decision you’ve ever made. Let someone help you who has already been down that road. Your life is precious. Don’t throw it away. In your desperate desire to have both ways, don’t let the safe sex illusion draw you in. Consider all of your alternatives, and choose life.
Copyright © 1987 Regeneration, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.