You Can Have Safe, Healthy, Condom Free Sex: WATCH

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According to a National Institute of Health study’s findings: gay men and their feelings about, and reasons for using, (or not using) condoms have remained consistent.

They don’t like wearing them.

FROM THE STUDY: Preference for not using condoms and contextual factors were the top two reasons given for not using condoms, followed by a reasoned judgment based on risk assessment, relationship status and interpersonal communication. No major differences were found between men who reported non-condom use at last receptive and insertive anal intercourse. By contrast when meeting online, men were more likely to report reasons for non-condom use that corresponded to individual preference and mutual agreement not to use condoms. When meeting offline, men were more likely to cite reasons related to context and relationships. In developing HIV prevention interventions for this population, researchers should address both venues separately, as reasons why men engage in non-use of condoms appear to differ.

“Gay sex is not just about HIV prevention,” says HIV-activist Alex Garner, who is the Senior Health Innovation Strategist at Hornet.But, we must decouple gay sex from [the] disease, because at the end of the day, all those scientific advancements don’t really matter. At the core of any discussion about condomless sex is the basic premise of self-determination: Do gay men have the right to determine for themselves what they do with their own bodies?”

Alex Garner

“It’s great that we now have more options than ever to prevent HIV, but sex without condoms,” says Garner, “is as old as creation, yet among gay men it remains a controversial topic, 40 years into the HIV epidemic” 

Hornet teamed up with Avert, which he calls “a long-standing HIV organization committed to providing quality information about the disease,” to produce some terrific content around this topic.

The campaign’s tagline: “If we want to promote sexual health, we need to help people understand their HIV prevention options, not judge their choices,” was created in partnership and reflects the beliefs of both entities. The campaign, called “Gay Health: Getting Real About Sex Without a Condom,” is grounded in Garner’s belief that, “If we want to promote sexual health, we need to help people understand their HIV prevention options, not judge their choices.”

As a gay man living with HIV, Garner says he understandsthe challenges that men encounter because of their HIV status or sexuality. Garner believes very strongly in cultivating spaces where gay men are affirmed and empowered to take control over their sexual health.

Gaynrd spoke with Garner.

Gaynrd: What does your argument that says a healthy attitude towards sex and HIV, that does notinclude condoms, entail?

Garner: A healthy attitude about sex prioritizes pleasure. Gay men are allowed to enjoy sex just for the benefits of pleasure and intimacy and we must be able to cultivate that. We must work to remove the anxiety, shame, and stigma that so many gay men still experience in relation to sex. 

Knowledge is empowering. When it comes to sexual health it’s simply about providing people with as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about their health and respect their self determination around their body and their sexuality. 

People have, and continue to ask: how is this responsible behavior? 

We need to remove the term “responsibility” from any productive conversation around sexual health. It’s incredibly parternalistic. It induces stigma, particularly for people living with HIV. The implication is that we got HIV because we were irresponsible. It completely ignores the complex reasons people are getting HIV. It’s an age old trap, like blaming people for living in poverty.

We can do better.

Do you see a stigma-less future for gay men and HIV? 

Gay men have the power to create a stigma free community but it requires some key actions. One is to dismantle structural stigma, but it is a very heavy lift, like dismantling structural homophobia and racism. I think the other place where we can really lead is in how we respond to stigma in our lives. For example, when someone says that HIV-positive people are “dirty whores” the reflexive response is to say, “I am not a whore,” as opposed to responding with, “what’s wrong with being a whore?”

If we want to take on stigma we must reject respectability politics and give gay men the skills to successfully navigate a world in which stigma exists. We must invest in building our communities’ resiliency. 

You describe a more nuanced stigma? Can you explain what that is?

Gay men have a unique relationship to stigma. First we live in a world where the more conventional HIV stigma exists and by that I mean the stigma where people don’t want to hold hands, or share utensils, etc.

We have been bombarded with HIV messages for the past 38 years and much of it has been profoundly stigmatizing. HIV has been incidental to our sex lives and the dominant culture and government has reinforced the idea in our minds that sex is dirty and immoral. Add to that the stigma that gay men regularly witness from other gay men. We have a constant and consistent relationship to stigma that does not exist in other communities and we have to be able to come to terms with that before we can address it. 

Watch the video below.

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