Why we should never stop being scared of AIDS
As an HIV/AIDS activist, one of the questions I wrestle with daily is this:
At what point does educating people about HIV start to dilute the fear of the virus itself?
Sorry to get all controversial on you, but bareback sex feels good — that’s why people do it.
It’s no good brushing it under the carpet in the hope that people will conveniently forget this small point, because it’s a simple fact of life; your dick is packed with nerves that respond favourably to something warm and wet. And no, I don’t mean apple pie.
Well, I’ll tell you what doesn’t feel good: The fact that I couldn’t snog the face off of my gorgeous, HIV negative (now ex) boyfriend when we went to bed at night, because there was usually blood in the sink after I spat my toothpaste out. Nope, that’s pretty depressing, actually.
Or what about the fact that I can’t drink alcohol any more because of the damage the years of medication has done to my liver? Tonic water, anyone? Just me? Oh, okay then.
I’ll tell you what else doesn’t feel good: that despite still being relatively young and in my prime (I’m 31), I’m usually so exhausted by the end of the week that I sleep for half of Saturday and tend not to move past the sofa for the rest of it.
And did I ever tell you about how I got this scar on the side of my face? No? Well that was from last November, when I changed my medication, had a massive allergic reaction to it and was found hours away from a coma at the bottom of my stairs by my mother, who came round to check I was OK after nobody had heard from me for four days.
This, ladies and gents, is the reality of HIV.
In July 2008, I wrote for the Pride Blog, and I talked about HIV and the “Tombstone Generation”. For people like me, growing up in the 1980s, HIV/AIDS was without a doubt regarded as a killer. We were bombarded with images of falling tombstones and icebergs, and ominous voices telling us: “don’t die of ignorance.”
Before this period, the message was even closer to home. Paul Burston, author of “The Gay Divorcee” recently told PinkNews: “”For those of us who are 40-plus…we didn’t need ‘icebergs’, we saw friends die in hospital.”
I guess if you were sexually active in the 80s, going to a funeral every week in the 90s would have put the whole barebacking issue into perspective.
Fast forward to 2010 and things have changed dramatically. Take me for instance. I have a great job, I earn a good salary. I don’t live on benefits. My boss is very understanding about taking time off for hospital appointments, and treating the virus means simply taking five pills in the morning. It’s just become a part of my daily routine, like putting my contact lenses in so I can see properly.
Yes, HIV is now very much a ‘manageable condition’ — rather like diabetes.
In the developed world at least, we’re so fortunate to have treatment and care available to us, and I can’t put into words the respect and gratitude I have for the men and women who dedicate their lives to finding new treatments, vaccines, and hopefully one day — a cure.
But with all these advances in medical science, we’ve ended up with AIDS no longer being the killer it used to be. So it’s only natural we worry about it less.
It’s also invisible — you can’t see it, so it becomes easier to bury your head in the sand and forget about it, as opposed to, say, a dirty great weeping sore on the end of your cock.
It feels like lately, AIDS awareness campaigns have taken a very softly-softly approach, concentrating on a gentle “use a condom” message.
This is all well and good, but what about showing people the harsh realities of HIV? The anti-smoking lobbyists have got it right, with a slew of increasingly more graphic ad campaigns, and images of rotting teeth and blackened lungs gracing every fag packet.
Should we take our lead from the anti-smoking groups and start including similar on the DVD cases of bareback porn? Or would that ruin our fun too much? I mean, who wants to think about AIDS when you whack a porno on in the background while you’re sticking it to/getting banged senseless by some cute guy who thinks you’re hotter than molten lava?
If you were around in the mid 90s, you’ll vividly remember the image of Leah Betts in her hospital bed, which was circulated to the press in 1995. Her mother released the photo in the hope that people would see it and think twice about taking Ecstasy.
What would make you think twice about barebacking? An advert asking you very nicely to use a condom, thank-you-very-much, or being slapped round the face with the image of someone in the last hours of their painful life, covered in KS lesions, getting water through a drip and pissing it from a catheter?
Now ask yourself this: Is a few seconds spent having a giddy, bareback orgasm worth that?
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