To me condoms always seemed to be someone else's problem. I mean being young and gay in the early 1980s meant not having to worry about getting some girl pregnant. Syphilis and gonorrhea were the only major STDs that I tried to avoid. Oops, I forgot about herpes, but who hasn't had a cold sore on their mouth.
Having lost my virginity to both sexes, my idea of sexual lubrication was K-Y jelly, Vaseline or spit. If I were really excited then I hunted for that motion lotion. By accident one drunken lusty night I used some icy hot, and learned for the first time the many uses of the aloe vera plant.
As my sexual drive increased, so did my risk behavior, until I heard the words "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)." I was one of those who thought that AIDS only happened in the big cities, real cities, like New York and San Francisco. Or worst that it was happening only in the white gay community. I didn't even know people who had colds, let alone who were dying. However, slowly but surely I started using condoms and started finding out more information on this new thing called "Safe Sex."
Somewhere during the course of my personal journey, HIV and then AIDS became a new life-partner with me. The days of flesh upon flesh and the mingling of fluids came to an abrupt end. But I was determined that I would continue to have a healthy sex life. Hell, I was using the military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" motto years before they even coined the phrase. See, if you didn't ask if I had AIDS, I wouldn't tell you I had AIDS.
I just held firm to the idea, "No Glove-No Love." I created all types of interesting ways to pull the vital sexual behavior information from my sexual partners, while steering clear of those acts that could put us at risk. I asked, "What kinds of things do you like to suck? How many sexual partners have you been freaky with? You use that tongue really well, don't you? A buddy of mine says he's not worried about Hepatitis, are you?"
As long as I used safe sex, I could live my life. Safe sex to me meant using latex condoms and lube, not Vaseline. Overtime, I began to limit the types of things that I did sexually with another person. I really didn't like condoms at this point in time, but I felt that they were a necessary evil. I wasn't into oral sex. I didn't kiss. I wouldn't let my sexual partners touch me in any way, shape or form unless we were alone or unless we were located where prying eyes could not see us. The strange thing about this is that I wasn't really happy. I felt totally restricted, but at least I wasn't being abstinent. I can't speak for others but personally being abstinent was not an option. In my mind abstinent meant that my life was over, and I was no longer desirable. Remember this is my stuff, my own personal issues, but that's another article.
I asked myself, "Is this all that I need in order to have a 'normal' life?" After going through the motions, with several partners, I felt that it was time to reevaluate my personal position on sex. Finally, I decided that I would be proactive about sex. The first step was being honest with all of my sexual partners. Yes, I feared the rejection and the stigma that I believed would follow, once people in the community found out about my status. However, I moved forward and discovered that it was ok. I was not some sexual leper, in fact many of my partners had new respect for my honesty. Of course, there were those who reacted negatively, but I felt that if they couldn't deal with my honesty then they didn't need to be in my life anyway. I knew that if I loved myself, was honest with myself, and respected myself, everything would be fine.
I decided that I needed to learn more about "safer sex" and opted to talk with several people who were giving "eroticizing safe sex" workshops. This opened my eyes to many misconceptions I had about safe sex and personal intimacy. I knew what types of condoms and personal lubrication should be used, but I didn't know how to really incorporate it into a truly intimate setting.
I realized that I was often in such a rush when it came to sex, that I would miss the opportunity to really enjoy myself and experience intimacy. So, I took a mental inventory of the things I truly enjoyed sexually. I loved touching and caressing. I found out that a full body massage is actually a great place to begin one's sexual journey. Kissing, licking and sucking were other things I really enjoyed. I came to the realization that my oral fixation wasn't limited to suckers and cigarettes. But all of these types of interactions take time, that is if you really want to fully enjoy the experience. I slowly began to apply some of my new skills. I eventually discovered that I enjoyed being held, and I enjoyed holding another person in my arms.
Just think all of these wonderful new experiences . . . [to be continued].
AC is the director of Men of Color HIV/AIDS programs at TPAN.