HIV: What I Wish I Had Known
Posted by pozlife on September 19, 2007
An insider’s view
by Chris Sullivan
Another week, another new story about rising HIV rates in some part of the country. After millions of dollars and literally decades of safe-sex education, something is clearly not working. Are the messages unclear or are they falling on deaf ears?
Having tested HIV positive myself back in 2001, I’ve often wondered if there was anything that I could have known back then that might have made a difference in preventing my own diagnosis. Of course, I’ll never know. But after having lived on both sides of the HIV fence now I’ve certainly learned a few things:
1) Diseases have no morality.They are equal opportunity killers. Interjecting morality into sound scientific and medical advice not only convolutes the issues at hand unnecessarily, it is actually counter-productive, making a difficult situation only that much harder to deal with effectively.
2) Accepting ultimate responsibility for your own behavior keeps you in charge. When it comes to HIV, you only need to contract it once. So even one poor decision can make all the difference. You can stay HIV negative but you need to make that choice every single time you have sex.
3)Being honest about your own sexual behaviors and appetites is empowering. Are you drawn to sexual activities that have a higher rate of potential HIV infection? Are you sexually compulsive? While there’s nothing wrong with a healthy sexual appetite, good decision-making shouldn’t be compromised in the process.
4) Sex isn’t just physical; it’s emotional, too. It can bring to the surface all sorts of psychological stresses. For example, issues surrounding body image can play into deeper issues regarding self-esteem. Sometimes even the most pragmatic and responsible of people can be undone by their own insecurities and make poor decisions. It takes a very strong person to remain psychologically resolute when they are feeling most vulnerable emotionally.
5) The effects of alcohol or drug use on a person’s ability to make good decisions can’t be emphasized enough. A “high” feeling, by its very nature, is detached on some level and not at all grounded. If your mind is wandering off in a multitude of different directions and your immediate focus varies from moment to moment, just gathering the clarity and decisiveness to make sure you still practice safe-sex can be daunting.
6) When it comes to HIV/AIDS, information is power, but ignorance is not bliss. Getting tested (preferably twice over a six month period) and knowing your status is your best starting point. This puts you in your strongest possible position to make well-informed decisions about your health and your sexual practices going forward.
7) Be prepared. Some people don’t use condoms because they feel it diminishes the pleasure of anal sex – but not all brands of condoms and lube are created equal. Some brands provide greater safe-sex enjoyment than others. Such sites as condomdepot.com can help you choose products that best suit your safety and pleasure needs.
8) Be aware. You are your own best protector. Outside of medical concerns, the greatest burden HIV-positive men have to deal with is disclosure of their status and their approaches to that can be quite varied.
• Some men reveal their HIV status to all of their sex partners.
• Some men are selective with whom and under what circumstances they reveal this information.
• Some men feel that by only engaging in oral sex or by always using condoms during anal sex, they have done as much to safeguard your sexual health as can be expected. The rest is up to you.
• Some men feel that if they have sex in an establishment designed for casual sex, that their partner is fully aware of the potential risks for any kind of STD and as a mature adult, is choosing to take those risks. They feel no responsibility for your sexual decisions.
I think the best piece of advice I ever got was from a dear friend of mine who has been living in New York City since the 1970s and who continues to have an active and HIV-negative sex life. His words are simple but can save lives:
“I just assume everyone is positive and proceed accordingly.”
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