Wednesday, 1 December 2010

World #AIDS Day - #ActAware: Confession Time

I have a confession to make.

I don't always practise safe sex. In fact bareback sex does feel so much better than using a condom.... the time.

However, to be frank it is one of the reasons that so many people, especially gay men, are still getting infected day by day.People often ask, how can people put themselves in risk of affection, often that is one of the major reasons, it feels the time.

There is of course then the wait of three months to get outside the window period, the anxious walk to a clinic to get tested, and the wait for the blood results and then the wait for the next time, just to be sure. But at the time it feels good, but that doesn't make it right to do so and here is a personal realisation as to why.

See the thing is that even though I campaign to end the blood ban, I really want it to be lifted in a way that I personally will find it very hard to give blood, not because of my sexual orientation but because of my how I go about it. I have had sex with men who are living with HIV (three of them in total, that I am aware of, though only two told me at the time).

The one of those who didn't tell me, contacted me rather embarrassed 8 months after we last had sex. His first comment was "I have something to tell you". Before he revealed that he'd just been diagnosed with HIV and probably was living with it at the time we were together. Thankfully for me he had failed to answer my questioning in a positive way when he asked for us to forget about the condoms. He also changed his answers when he'd asked again some weeks later.

I'm big enough, ugly enough and informed enough to make my own decisions about who I sleep with, providing I'm aware of the facts. With the two who were honest there are two things that I cannot provide:
  1. I cannot offer him anal sex without a condom being involved
  2. I cannot be 100% sure that any sex we have is safe (there is no guarantee of that)
I'm aware of my current HIV (and other STIs) status, just two weeks ago my bloods came back negative, as did my swabs. But that is as much through luck as good personal responsibility.

Here's the thing, if I were to fall in love with someone living with HIV, I would want to love them emotional, intellectually, spiritually and sexually. Of course anyone in such a circumstance would also be facing the same two criteria above. I trust on point one they would love me enough to respect that is the case, I hope for point two that they realise I love them enough to want to be part of them, even with that one small chance of doubt every time.

There has of course been a lot of jumping up and down in the gay press about Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) benefits from the use of Truvada before infection. However, this is a costly way to counter the issue and

"For now, and for the foreseeable future, condoms remain the most effective, easily available and cheapest way of preventing HIV transmission. As this trial suggests, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is going to be an addition to condom use rather than a replacement of it."

So therefore as you've seen today through my blogging the message this World AIDS Day the message of Act Aware really is one that I am taking on board. That's why I'm protecting myself and others from HIV infection.

It is why I have taken this day away from parking my blog to make these three posts going from the overall picture, through my local situation and friend, to this very personal post. Hopefully through something I have said today, someone, somewhere, maybe even you, will take a number of steps to Act Aware in your own life.
  1. Get tested (and keep getting tested) it may seem like a trauma to do it, but the knowledge of your status at regular intervals is far better than finding out late on you have an issue.
  2. Practise safer sex always use a condom in casual relationships
  3. Never rely on self disclosure from someone else. As I mentioned above 1 in 4 people living with HIV cannot disclose to you that they are, because they themselves do not know. Respect your own body and health, you are only in control of that, not anyone else's.
If you do live in Northern Ireland and are concerned about HIV contact the confidential helpline number 0800 137 437.

Or make a visit to the Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinics at the following locations:

The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast 
The Causeway Hospital, Coleraine 
Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry 
Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry

Condoms are readily available through chemists, public toilets or even in health packs at most gay venues. So even if you pull on a night out there is no excuse to not be prepared.


  1. I've mis-started this comment several times. So far every time has been either patronising or angry. But I know I am not wanting to patronise you and it is not you I am angry with. And there is no point in being angry with HIV, or angry about it. Generations before us have been worried about what we must now call STIs, used to call STDs and used to see in notices on toilet walls as VD. They were often fatal, too, then, and in deeply unpleasant and lingering ways, as well.

    Those generations, even when they knew about condoms, still chose sex without them, still took what we now see as amazing Russian Roulette style risks, still scared themselves witless waiting for a diagnosis, and still breathed regular sighs of relief when the diagnosis came back as 'clear'.

    Sex is fun.

    Sex on the spur of the moment is really good fun.

    Sex on the spur of the moment between a man and a woman has a more immediate risk.


    Because of that heterosexual couples having sex tended to rely on condoms before the pill was invented. It would be interesting to look at statistics of STI infection pre and post pill contraception in heterosexual couples.

    It's damnably hard to get another bloke pregnant, however hard you try. The risk of pregnancy just isn't there to concentrate the mind towards condoms. When we were kids we knew we would live for ever, and the heat of the fun of sex means a condom is the absolute last thing on your mind. We're designed to go for it. "Everything forward and trust in the lord!"

    If it were not for that I'd be angry at everyone who ever had unprotected sex.

    I think I'm angry at me. I'm not angry with you. And the anger is one of relief.

    We're different generations, you and I. I'm sure there are many other differences but the generation one is important. I'm one of the closeted generation, the generation too afraid to be queer, the generation where so many of us hid. I was lucky. I hid, quite by accident, in a loving heterosexual marriage. I choose fidelity inside that marriage. Both of those things have been hugely lucky, because my gay generation is probably the last one to have been unaware of the risk of HIV.

    Put bluntly, if I had not been married, if I had not been faithful, I would be dead. If I had been unfaithful my wife would be dead, through no fault of hers. Very few men are not naturally promiscuous. And sex?

    Sex is fun!

    No-one can deny that fiddling about with a condom can take the edge off it, but it's still fun with one.

    The choice ought to be simple: Sex with a condom, no sex without one.

    On my own blog I asked What are YOU doing for World AIDS Day? I know what you're doing. You're highlighting the dangers. It wasn't brave having sex without a condom, but it's damned brave telling us about it. And I think what you've said here is important enough for me to turn this comment into a post at my blog, toon order to draw wider attention to yours.

  2. There seems to be some confusion,

    PEP = Post Exposure Prophylaxis
    PEP ≠ Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis

    Read the rest of this article here.

  3. Hi Tim,

    Thanks. Yeah the main reason I wrote this post was that one in four figure of people living with HIV that are not yet diagnosed. I do appreciate how fortunate I have been to still return negative results.

    I also think the opening statement says a lot about why people are still getting infected.

    Yeah the main point was to draw attention to the three points at the end, especially the third one. We cannot rely on self disclosure because not everyone is aware.

    HIV Blogger thanks for that correction, I should have known better and have updated.