Safer Sex

Talking With Teens About AIDS, Love, and Staying Alive
A part of sexual activity is feelings. I’d say the biggest part. Even 15 and 16 year olds like me are having sex. I think feelings are never discussed and that’s a problem.

-- A teenager from Brooklyn

Safer sex is more than simply knowing how to correctly put on a condom. It is more than being able to recite the four body fluids that carry and transmit HIV. It is more than dental dams, plastic wrap and non-oxynol 9. It is more than mucous membranes, alternatives to sexual intercourse and knowing your partner's HIV status.

Safer sex is feeling safe with the person you are having sex with.

Safer sex is feeling safe enough to stay or safe enough to leave at any moment.

Safer sex is feeling safe enough to communicate everything. If you don't feel comfortable, can you communicate that? If you don't know what your partner intends for you or expects from you, can you find out? If you want to know how often and even with whom they've had sex, do you feel comfortable enough to ask?

Safer sex is caring about yourself so much that no one can make you do anything that you are not 100% comfortable doing.

Safer sex is knowing what you are not 100% comfortable doing.

Safer sex is about knowing yourself so well that you can represent your needs at all times in all situations so that you don't put yourself in a situation of risk.

Safer sex is knowing how to say "no." It's knowing how to say "I don't want to do this." It's knowing how to say, "Yes, there is peer pressure, but no, I'm not playing."

Safer sex is knowing that you are no one's sexual playground to explore and exploit.

Safer sex is knowing that sex is not in your crotch, but in your head and in your heart.

Safer sex is recognizing alcohol and drugs as the intervening variables that affect your better judgment.

Safer sex is being able to listen to conversations about sex without laughing.

Safer sex is being able to look your partner in the face, and not look away.

Safer sex is a vibration, a craving for another person's energy as much as their body.

Safer sex is knowing your partner's last name.

Safer sex is up to you!

In other words, as eleven year old Daniella from Florida puts it, "I want to KNOW you, Boy!"

If you can't talk about sex, then what are you doing having sex? When you are alone with someone in a sexual situation, there's got to be a part of you that silently asks, "Do I feel comfortable here? Am I ready for this? Can I articulate all of my feelings?"

If you think you are old enough, mature enough, comfortable enough, able and ready to have sex, then you better be old enough, mature enough, comfortable enough, able and ready to make your own decisions. And if you are ready to make your own decisions, you better be ready to talk about them. And if you are ready to talk about them, you better be ready to understand the consequences. And if you don't think you are ready to handle the consequences, then you're not ready to have sex.

And if you can't talk about sex with your clothes on, what makes you think it's any easier when your clothes are off?

I don't care about the stigmas. I did when I was your age, and it's one of the reasons I'm infected today. For once, let there be some memory of someone who once said to you, "It doesn't matter what your sexuality is."

I don't care who you have sex with. I care that YOU care who you have sex with.

So if you're going to experiment with sex, try experimenting with love, too. If you can't love your sex partners, at least like them very much. And above all else, try to make each other feel safe. And if you can't even do that, then get out of the bed.

So get honest with yourselves and your partners and start talking.

People just don't talk about sex, period. I mean, people don't even say the word. You know, it may be so taboo to have sex at such young ages, but people don't realize that there are 13 and 14 year-olds having sex at that age. And they attend this camp. They attend any school or camp. And then nobody knows about everything else that goes along with sex, like diseases and HIV, because nobody wants to talk about it. I mean, once you're comfortable talking about it, you know, then you can maybe get others to be comfortable.

Right! The more comfortable you feel talking about sex, the more comfortable your partner will feel talking about sex. If you're not comfortable, that's a start. It's just a matter of being able to say, "I'm not really comfortable talking about this." There's nothing bad about that; it helps, in fact, to break the ice and get your partner talking.

When you tell the truth, others tell the truth. Give people your human-ness. Any opportunity you take to be honest and to reveal yourself in talking with your partner just might make you that much more appealing. AIDS is not just changing our sex lives, but also changing the way we behave in the world so that we respect each other when we have sex.

I know what you're saying and I agree with it, but how do I go to my boyfriend and actually say to him, "These are my fears...?"

You say, "These are my fears..."

It's not easy, I know. Believe me, I know. I'm living with HIV because it was too uncomfortable for me to have that conversation. But let me tell you something, it is infinitely more uncomfortable living with HIV.

Back in December of 1987, I never said, "No, I don't want to do that and I mean it!" or "You must use a condom every time," or "what exactly are we gonna do here," or "how much farther are we gonna go with this," or simply, "I'm scared." More than that, I knew I wasn't safe. I knew I was uncomfortable in my environment, in that apartment. But I thought, "I need to find out about sex. I need to find out about who I am in the world as a sexual being." I was also too embarrassed and ashamed to say "I'm uncomfortable." I didn't know "the right" questions to ask. I was afraid to say "Yes" and I was afraid to say "No." I felt like I should know all those answers and was ashamed that I didn't, so I kept my mouth shut. I didn't feel I had any right to say, "I'll do this but not that." Or, "We need to take this whole thing a little slower."

Or simply "Stop!"

There's no difference between you and me except a few years and the fact that I did a few risky things and I got infected. I'm here to tell you what that's about so that you don't do the things I did and put yourselves in a position where you can get into trouble. As one HIV positive friend says, "I'm here to share my experience so you don't experience what I share." Because there is no longer an excuse. No longer can you say, "I didn't know." Or, "I thought it couldn't happen to me." Because if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Perhaps you can learn through my mistakes. You don't have to know life the way I know life. You can get the same lesson without having the same experience. But then again, this is your life and your learning ground. Think about it. Which is more uncomfortable -- a few minutes or maybe even hours of a really difficult conversation which includes your feelings about sex and HIV/AIDS, or living the rest of your life with HIV/AIDS? It's your life. You decide.

What happens when you decide to have that kind of communication? You either have sex or you don't. And you get to know whether or not you even want to have sex with that person. And you get to learn how to talk about sex. And you get to know yourself in a situation where you've never been before. And you get to know your partner better. Communication can do more than just save your life. Communication can create intimacy. It can influence you to look into your partner's eyes and say, "I care about you but I care about myself, too. I'm kind of concerned. How can we help each other through this?"

The excuse "we all make mistakes" doesn't exactly work in this case, you know. You make one mistake and you pay for it for the rest of your life. You can't afford to screw up. And you don't have to be promiscuous, you don't have to be gay, you don't have to be heterosexual, white, black, whatever. You just haveto have unsafe sex or share needles. If you put yourself at risk, there's a good chance you will have to face the consequences.

Right. In essence, what we're talking about is much more than AIDS and safer sex. It's about not getting in a car with a drunk person or taking drugs from a friend, or even having friends that do drugs. It's about going home with someone at a party when your inner voice says, "Maybe not", or driving way over the speed limit, or cheating on your boyfriend/girlfriend, or being disrespectful to someone else's property, or simply not liking yourself. It's about life and the way in which you participate in it. It's about self-respect, self-esteem, speaking up for yourselves and taking a stand. It's about peer pressure, using your head and thinking before you take action. It's about discovering what each of your own individual beliefs are and learning to stand behind them. It's about developing a "safety instinct."

And it all starts by asking yourself,
"How does it feel inside?"

© 1997 by Scott Fried
Published by Scott Fried, PO Box 112 Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113

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