Using condoms is an optional rite, performed only at the other party’s request and offered solely as a vehicle of respect and trust that departs from mainstream definitions of safe sex.
“Safe sex” calls one thing to mind: condoms. Acolytes hawking the historic demonization of sex and whipping up fear around serial infections — spanning from the syphilis outbreak in 15th-century Europe to the HIV epidemic of the 1980s — continue to propagandize condoms as the lone heroes against STIs, as if the body alone governs all actions pertaining to sex and its relative safety.
Even when the Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada for high-risk individuals uninfected with HIV, and more and more people began to rethink their safe-sex rituals, the idea of “safe sex” remained virtually unmoved from its origins in stifling the spread of STIs.
Containing and eradicating STIs would be a snap if preventing infections lay at the heart of everyone’s safe-sex rituals; but, since sex entails so much more than genitalia slapping together, safe sex entails much more than wearing a condom.
For example, would you say that rapists who wear condoms practice safe sex? They’ve minimized infection risks according to the National Institution of Health’s standards — ones that two men having consensual, bareback sex defy. If anything, these rapists are more paragons of safe sex than any barebacker can be.
People don’t create and improvise their safe-sex rituals with a single aspect of the self in mind. What one person embraces as safe another may reject as risky. Minimization or elimination of risk may be tertiary — and some sexual encounters may inspire people to dramatically change their safe-sex rituals.
Truly, sex is never entirely safe, and yet people always make sex safe according to their own standards.
So why, then, have we cloistered “safe sex” under the aegis of the condom, where behind its latex citadel the mind and heart play vassal to the body? When did the penis usurp the throne as sex-tator? Doesn’t the brain engender more kinds of sexual experiences than peckers in plastic panoply?
What about people who have rape fantasies of being forcibly pinned down and fucked to high heaven; neg men who have bareback sex exclusively with undetectable poz men; people who preface casual sex with a half-hour chat and, thereafter, anything goes; leather, piss or scat fetishists; gay men in monogamous relationships who only play other gay couples because they believe that one-on-one play with single men might jeopardize their relationship; purportedly HIV-neg men who justify gratuitous barebacking upon receiving verbal confirmation that his trick is “clean” or “drug- and disease-free” (aka DDF).
Folks, let’s not theorize ourselves away from reality. Let’s live in reality and acknowledge how everyone creates safe-sex rituals in different ways that cannot be judged by any institution, person, philosophy or concept, no matter how objectively senseless you may perceive that ritual to be. Learning to accept what someone does, instead of telling someone what to do, creates change far more effectively.
I cannot tell you how many times people have disguised their opinions as objective truth in attempts to change the way I think and live my life. At those times, it would’ve been more compelling for them to express their opinions as opinions — as personal values that mean something to them — instead of shielding them with condoms of objectivity or Truvada pills of absolute truth.
Tell me that sharing your values with me is meaningful for you. How can I not feel amazing, hearing something like that? How can that gift of trust and respect not make sex safer and hotter, however you define “sex,” “safe” or “hot”?
Let’s take the idea of “safe sex” back. Let’s stop trying to change the ways in which people have sex and create safe sex; instead, nod, accept, study, question, care, be present, show compassion and say, “I don’t agree, but I want to understand.”
We’re all in this together, folks. Now get out there and talk about it.
Aaron Stella is former editor-in-chief of Philly Broadcaster. He has written for several publications in the city and now devotes his life to tackling the challenges of HIV in the 21st century. Millennial Poz, which recently won first place for excellence in opinion writing from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and best column writing from the Local Media Association, appears in PGN monthly. Aaron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.