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Gay or Straight: What's the Problem With Condoms?

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

November 4, 2011

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

I was talking to a friend the other day who was telling me that they got into a heated discussion with another friend about safe sex. This one person had been fooling around earlier that day and my friend asked about condoms. And they said, "Well we didn't have any, but he pulled out before he had an orgasm."

My friend said it took everything to keep calm, especially when another friend admitted in the course of that discussion that they didn't always use a condom with their "ex."

Now one friend tried to justify it and another friend, the one with the ex knew it was wrong, it was just something that they did; Use condoms sometimes and not use condoms at other times. Now that person is their, "ex." So all the trust they had is out the window because they couldn't even keep it together.

Now what I didn't say, was that these are men who date men. Basically, they are all openly gay. But in many respects I don't see their behavior any more risky than I do heterosexuals in this regard. And I'm trying to understand, whether you are gay or straight what is the problem with condoms? Everybody thinks it's someone other than themselves. Everyone thinks there's a quick fix to the problem other than the right fix, a condom. Younger gay men think it's older gay men; Or they think it's inevitable, when actually it's preventable.

Women are no different, they just have a different rationale. Because they don't sleep around they don't see themselves at risk or they think the love will keep them safe. I hear all the time from women, "Well we used condoms in the beginning, but over time it just faded away. I know a woman who dated a man for 7 years and she told me they used condoms all the time in the beginning, but over time she just didn't see a need and he didn't really want to use them anyway. BTW, if you date a man for seven years without marriage you are wasting your pretty! No one deserves all of you that long without a real commitment.

I'm sad to say, he died a year ago from AIDS and she is adjusting to her new life of being HIV infected. She's young so with treatment and care she will probably live a long time. That is, if she does what she is supposed to do. But make no mistake, her life has changed forever. Every single HIV medication has some kind of side-effect and some are worst than others. HIV has a way to wear down on your spirt and the longer you live with it, the harder you have to fight.

But then there's the issue of stigma, who to tell? That shit haunts you. #ForReal Especially when you meet a new person and have to sit down with them and disclose your HIV status and wait for them to say yes or no.

That silence those first seconds after you tell someone you really like you have HIV is murder of the spirit. A part of you dies with each ticking second. And if that person chooses not to be with you, you have to remind yourself over and over, that they are rejecting HIV, not you. And then, you always have to deal with the whispers, "You know she has HIV." It never seems to go away, the judgments that are made about you. It's like having no other medical condition on the planet.

Having HIV is hard. I try to express it over and over again. But still people continue to live as if HIV does not matter for their life. I wonder what it will take to get people to understand that the only thing that will keep you safe is you; And that means the use of a latex condom?

This is the hard core reality. African-Americans are 52% of the HIV cases in the United States and we are 14% of the population. African-American women are over 70% of all new cases of HIV among women. And the CDC says that 1 and 2 Black Gay Men Have HIV.

The fact of the matter with statistics like this why the hell are you having unprotected sex? What is it about you that make you think that you are exempt from HIV, Herpes, HPV or any long list of sexually transmitted disease.

Like what dream world are you living in? Pretty Woman was a great movie but a lie. No man marries a prostitute after a week of fucking. Nope, he drops her off just where he picked her up. But yet you believe that your sex, your love, your mate will exempt you. It's a lie that you've made yourself believe just like women believe that there is a prince charming like Richard Gere at the end of your rainbow.

The fact is HIV is 100% preventable. It is!! All we have to do is live in the reality of what is before us. But NO!! Everyone wants a quick fix of some sort: He loves me, He would never cheat, when the fact of the matter is, if the penis ain't in your pocket you have no idea what it's doing when it's not with you. Yep, on another level we think we will out slick HIV. If he pulls out before he cums, I'm safe. NOPE. It does not matter if he ever cums inside of you. The fact is when men get wet around the penis, all his pre-cum is infected semen that can infect you. You think, I hear this a lot with gay men, If Im penetrating then it's all good.

NOPE, the fact is, anal sex is the easiest sexual form of transmission of HIV. It does not matter whether you are a top or bottom, male or female. If you are on top when you enter the rectum you tear the tissue lining of the rectum and it bleeds. If the person penetrating tears the skin on the penis you have a way for the virus to enter.

Now understand this, HIV is most highly concentrated in blood first, male semen secondly and female vagina fluids thirdly. There is no slack fix here. Even oral sex is not safe. Nope, especially for male to male and female to male. Yes, it is true that female to female and male to female oral sex is a lower risk for HIV infection. But either way you go, you are still playing with Russian roulette.

What I'm trying to say is STOP living in this make believe world! STOP believing that something will keep you safe other than what will truly keep you safe; Either no sex or sex with a latex condom.

If I didn't have HIV, a man couldn't look at my vagina without a condom. I just wouldn't take a chance like this. I was infected in 1983, HIV was only 2 years old back then. We didn't really understand how it was transmitted and most early cases were, men who had sex with men, HIV drug users or someone using blood products for medical reasons, like a blood transfusion and mother to child transmission.

But 30 years in, we know what we know. Just like we have advanced in treatment and care for people living with HIV, we have advanced in what we know about HIV. And what we know is people continue to get infected with HIV from having sex. In fact it is the largest percent of all cases in the United States and actually around the world. We are 30 years into the AIDS Pandemic when are we going to make a change?

What must happen in your life to get you to the place where you will use a condom? The fact of the matter, every 9 1/2 minutes a person becomes infected with HIV in the United States. What I know for sure, if you use a condom, you will ensure that this is not you.

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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
Ten Common Fears About HIV Transmission
Condom Basics
More Personal Views on Condoms


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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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