all things condoms

Safer Sex Messages are Getting Stale

Posted by Condomologist on April 29, 2009

Seth Michael Donsky writes a thoughtful, in-depth piece over at New York Press highlighting the failure of safer sex messages to radically change the risky behaviour of gay men in 2009. On the contrary, he notes, part of what holds us back in the sexual health field is an inability to navigate the complex implications of the simplistic Wear a condom mantra we’re so good at repeating ad nauseum. Donsky peeks into the bathouse culture, as well as the minds of acquaintances and experts in the field, and brings awareness to a reality many doing the HIV-related prevention, testing, counseling and outreach — like I do daily — have yet to face: throwing condoms in people’s faces and telling them what they should do often ignores and misses the point. Some men see HIV as a liveable, chronic disease (which, in a sense it is, though we don’t really know what the long-term outcomes are for the current generation of HIV-positive folks). Others lie about their status — or at least lie by omission. Many men simply don’t care. A good many people either can’t negotiate safer sex or aren’t very good at it. And condomless sex not only feels damn good, but it retains an appeal in that it’s taboo, dangerous, and the opposite of the instructions they’re bombarded with day in and day out. At least in America, most sexually active adults know full well that condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission; and yet the numbers of new HIV cases certainly aren’t going down. It’s easy to place blame on the right wing homophobes and the abstinence-only religious types — believe me, they deserve a hefty serving of it — but hopefully sooner rather than later, those of us in sexual health, with the best of intentions, also need to take a good, long look in the mirror. Handing out condoms and counseling those getting tested on risk reduction are worthwhile ventures (assuming one wants to reduce his risk), but aggressively tackling homophobia and the shame and stigma around HIV and AIDS seems to me an equally important piece of the puzzle. Read Donsky’s piece, for it reveals much more than just bathouse culture and bareback sex. It’s a call to rethinking strategy and tactics and understanding for the sex-positive crowd I’m proud to be a part of.


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