Let's Talk About Sex
Sex can be complicated, uncomfortable and messy to begin with -- throw in HIV, and you've got an even hotter potato.
When I first heard the phrase "sex positive" over ten years ago, it seemed to me at the time a radical thought. Me, HIV-positive, exploring my sexuality, and feeling good about it? Was that possible? Was it right? Was it even legal?
Do people with HIV have the right to feel good about their bodies, and to express themselves in a healthy, sexual manner? The answer seems simple enough and pretty straightforward. However, the added risks of STDs, pregnancy or of a partner becoming infected with HIV complicate the issue. And why is there the assumption that it is acceptable and appropriate for some to engage in sex without condoms, while others are told they have to use condoms every single time, and if they don't are vilified and portrayed as evil barebackers, creating mutated super-viruses? Sex without condoms is a normal, natural desire. Society preaches no sex outside of marriage, but then turns around and legislates who can and cannot marry.
No wonder we have prevention fatigue. We've been hearing the same, tired old messages for over 20 years. The times they are a-changing. We need fresh, new innovative approaches. We need to convey to the "twenty-somethings" the realities of living with HIV, how it's transmitted, and the other STDs that they put themselves at risk for when they engage in unprotected sex. Most of those in their teens and 20s don't remember a time when their friends were dying, wondering if or when they would be next. And many of us are now older, we're living longer and healthier, and some of us are in long-term relationships -- but our sex life can be just as messy and complicated as the next person's.
Granted, we have an obligation and a responsibility to teach the new generation that they can be responsible and sexual. But in so doing we need to be willing to try and start to talk about what it is that drives us to continue to put ourselves and others at risk, and why we continue to engage in behavior that is not healthy. Not healthy for our body, our relationships, or our spirit.
Sex can be a lot of things. Sex can be hot, and it can be cold; it can be sweaty, and it can be dry; it can be emotional, or devoid of feeling; a release, an obsession; a way to get closer to someone, or to keep them at a distance. We use sex, and it uses us up. We want sex, we need sex; we hate sex, we love sex, we are sex; we're in touch with our bodies, and we're more than just our penis or our vagina; we're in love, we're in lust; we're on the prowl, we're committed. We perform sexual acts, or we make love.
Sex in no way entirely defines us. But it is part and parcel of who we are. And whether we are HIV-positive or not, we all experience many of the same feelings, urges, desires, rights, responsibilities, hang-ups and complex relationships, both with our own bodies and with each other. Too many of us use sex to try to categorize, separate, delineate, justify and identify who and what we are all about, or even who we should or should not love. But to paraphrase Mr. Kinsey, sex is really more about what it is that we share in common, than what makes us different from one another.
That being said, it's essential that we continue to develop new and innovative prevention strategies that target specific, higher-risk populations if we are ever going to slow the spread of this epidemic. No single magic pill or treatment developed 10 or 20 years from now is going to solve the problems we are facing today. Adequate funding needs to be earmarked for development and research of vaginal and rectal microbicides, as well as vaccines, so that we'll be able to protect ourselves, each other, and future generations from HIV.
It's imperative that we create comprehensive prevention programs that address substance abuse in a realistic and non-judgmental manner. Is it any wonder that we see so many of our brothers and sisters self-destruct, when society teaches us to hate ourselves? We should demand sex education in our schools that talks about abstinence, condoms, drug and sexual abuse all in the same breath. And we need to continue to fund needle exchange programs, which numerous studies have shown to reduce the spread of HIV without increasing the incidence of drug abuse. And most importantly, we must insist on prevention and access to quality treatment and care -- on a universal scale.
The other day I read that every 15 minutes a child in Zimbabwe dies of AIDS. Every fifteen minutes. The majority of HIV in Africa is spread through heterosexual contact, to a woman who most often has one only partner, her husband. A women and mother in Africa should have every right and opportunity to protect and care for herself and her children, just as every gay man in Dubuque, Iowa should. This virus does not discriminate, and neither should we.
We require culturally and language-appropriate, age-specific messages targeting and reaching out to all populations at risk. We shouldn't be afraid to discuss sex openly, with our children, our parents, and one another, just because we could have some hang-ups, or we think that it's unmentionable, or because we don't know where to even begin. And we cannot allow ourselves, or our leaders, to be so self-righteous, self-serving or narrow-minded that we're willing to sacrifice certain segments of society, whole generations, or an entire country or continent, just because we believe we are morally right.
Think about it. Let's talk about sex.
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