When I first introduced the concept of the Experimental Daters to the 30 Dates blog, the idea was to tackle issues from a range of perspectives. Because not every aspect of dating and relationships affects everyone in the same way, and I wanted the 30 Dates blog to represent more than my own view point.
Yet again, Northstar upholds that principle, by approaching #SexWeek from an angle personal to him, and his sexual orientation, with a sobering and very important message about sexual health, and a period of recent history which needs to not go forgotten.
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx
Around six months ago I visited the doctor for a routine physical.
I’d signed up with a new practice and as part of that I had to go in for a routine examination, fill out some forms – nothing out of the ordinary. Sitting in the doctor’s office I’d filled out a general health questionnaire, and the doctor’s assistant came to take away my answers. Flipping through them with only mild interest she was halfway out of the office when suddenly she froze, closed the door, and came back to me with a serious expression on her face.
“Is there anything beyond the general physical that you need to speak to the doctor about today?” she asked, grave concern in her voice.
“No”, I replied, shaking my head, wondering why the sudden change in atmosphere.
I glanced down at the questionnaire to see where she’d been looking before her abrupt change – the section where it specified (in the words of the questionnaire) that I was a ‘man who had sex with men’. I assured her that no, I was simply here for the physical, there was nothing else I needed to discuss.
A few minutes later the doctor came in for the exam, and the exact same pattern repeated itself.
A routine physical, the doctor absently going through the motions, and then as soon as he saw that answer the same change in atmosphere – serious tone, “Is there anything you need to discuss?”.
He was extremely insistent that I take an STD test, until reassuring him that a) I always made sure to practice safe sex, b) my boyfriend and I were in a monogamous relationship, and c) that we’d both previously been tested at STD clinics as a precautionary measure. The doctor was happy enough with this, but the change in tone for both him and his assistant, after finding out that I have sex with men, was extremely pronounced.
Initially I was quite offended.
The change of tone had an implication of the stereotypical, that as a young gay man I must obviously be sexually promiscuous, and as a result of that we clearly needed to have a conversation about sexual health.
I’m really not promiscuous at all, and at the time I was in a monogamous relationship, as were the majority of my gay friends. Affronted by his perception of me as an unfair stereotype, and with a circle of friends and lifestyle that in no way matched that stereotype, I felt insulted.
After reflection though, I gradually took less offense at his attitude.
After all, the doctor didn’t know me, or my friends. He had no way of knowing what my own approach to sex was (non-promiscuous, monogamous, protected), and there is a significant population of young gay men for whom promiscuity is in fact a prominent lifestyle, and amongst whom safe approaches to sex aren’t necessarily always a factor. Given that, the doctor really can’t be blamed for trying to make sure that I was being safe; young men are notoriously bad for visiting the doctor, so on the infrequent occasions that he finds them in his office, he leans towards the side of caution and makes every attempt to ensure that they’re educated, tested, and safe.
Unfortunately, this is for good reason.
HIV infections are on the rise again amongst young gay men, which helps to explain why the doctor was quite so serious. Surveys of the gay population run within the gay community show that more young men are having unprotected sex, and as a result of this infections are increasing. An attitude has crept into some segments of the population that protection is unnecessary, and that attitude is quite terrifying – an attitude that the doctor was trying his best to confront whenever he’d find a young gay man in his office.
While the epidemic of the 80s and 90s is over, the disease has not gone away.
It is still easily transmissible, and permanent.
As yet there is no cure. There is no vaccine, and unless people know 100% that they and their partner are not infected, then they should always use protection.
That is my attitude, and as a child of the 80s, it is one that has been instilled into me from a young age.
As the years go by and we get further from the epidemic however, the impact that it had is lessening, and the lessons that it taught in terms of always being protected are being forgotten.
The sources for this are twofold, but both are linked to the passing of the years.
Over time drugs have become more effective, and HIV/Aids is no longer seen as the life sentence that it once was. A diagnosis no longer means a painful death over a few short years, and medications now weaken the virus to such an extent that someone suffering with it can still live a long and full life. Nonetheless, that is a life completely dependent on medication – daily doses of powerful chemicals to keep the virus at bay, and with which they’ll never quite be at 100% health. Obviously this is a massive improvement in treatment over the early days of the virus, but it is still a 100% chemical dependency for the remainder of someone’s lifespan. Some segments of the population have adopted an attitude of “if I catch it, then they have drugs for it now, I can just take those“. This is a very dangerous, risky, and short-sighted attitude.
The other, related problem, is that for young men today the Aids crisis isn’t even a distant memory – it played out before they were born, so it may as well have happened in a different universe. They have no memory of the overwhelming and devastating damage that it wrought upon the community. Damage which was so widespread and severe that there is no collective historical voice to warn young gay men of the dangers that they face and the suffering that was caused.
A generation was stolen from us by HIV, a generation that could have been role models, advisers, and leaders for the young gay men of today.
With an absence of living voices passing on the stories of the horrors of the crisis, the lessons of it are only revealed through study of that period in time. Aside from the occasional piece of media like the (highly recommended) Dallas Buyers Club, this is not a period of time or a crisis that is frequently visited in popular media, and this seems to be leading to a knowledge gap that is gradually expanding over the years.
So, to end my post on a depressing note – the attitudes I’ve described above are fortunately not massively prevalent in the gay community, however they are sufficiently serious for it to be a major issue for doctors, and growing to the extent that HIV infection rates are once again increasing.
While the epidemic is hopefully behind us forever, nonetheless HIV/Aids is by no means gone, and the spectre (and in some cases reality) of it is still an ever present factor in the gay community. It is a concern that has to be taken into account when dealing with gay sexual health and sexual practice, and until such a time as it is cured, it will remain a constant menace in the community, in all cases either debilitating or fatal.
With infection rates rising, unfortunately it seems this will continue to be the case for many years to come, a malignant presence which remains a constant part of the gay sexual health discussion.