Sex. It’s messy, fraught with all sorts of psychological problems and yes, it’s obviously what got me into this whole predicament in the first place. It is also rather pleasant. I still like to do it, if I am asked; but now, of course, it is a whole different ball game. There are so many risks involved. I mean there were always risks involved before, but now! There is the risk of infecting a negative partner; the risk of acquiring resistance to the drugs you are on or haven’t even started; the risk of catching something else that might exacerbate your condition. It’s a wonder that I still do it at all…but I soldier valiantly on.
What never really crossed my mind before were the psychological effects of having HIV. It has always been my practice to inform a partner of my status, before we had sex and I had always had encouraging results whenever this had occurred…up until just recently. I don’t know quite what has gone wrong with the world over the last year, but I seem to have had several very sobering experiences.
I think the fact that each one seemed to follow on from the other, made it feel more than just a little dispiriting. The first occasion happened several months ago. I had been out at a bar for the evening with friends. Jump forward a few hours and I’m in my bedroom wildly shedding clothes with another guy in anticipation of a night of passion and who knows what else to come.
It suddenly struck me that, unusually for me, I hadn’t yet informed him of my status. I broke the news carefully in that cavalier, “it-doesn’t-really-matter-because-I-am-always-extremely-safe” kind of way, but suddenly a chill Easterly wind rushed through the room and my friend began to look at me as if I was Old Yeller and it was time to get the rifle.
Giving him points for effort, he did actually go through with the exercise; though speed was obviously a priority for him now. Also, there was one particular thing he was keen to do to me, which he most certainly wasn’t going to allow me to do to him. There were scorch marks on the carpet as he left (within the hour), leaving me feeling considerably less than special.
The next encounter I had didn’t even get that far, though once again it occurred in the bedroom. I informed this particular gentleman of my status with a light heart. I should have been more circumspect. Suddenly he was very tired, he had “drunk too much,” it was way too late and he had forgotten that he had arranged to meet with a friend for breakfast the next morning. He threw me out and I slunk home feeling like a leper.
Then there was the time I was just told outright: “Sorry, I don’t do it with people who have AIDS”. I did actually consider telling him that I didn’t have AIDS. What I had was HIV, but I felt that the nuance would somehow be lost on him.
Sadly, there are other similar tales from both my own and my friends’ experience. I understand why these men have the fears they do, but it is their manners that infuriate me. They lacked…finesse, certainly, but principally they lacked respect. It is reasonable of people to be afraid of contracting HIV by having sex with someone who is carrying the virus. They have a choice to make; accidents can happen. No one should ever have sex against their will and I am not saying that either of these men should have gone through with something that frightened them or that they didn’t wish to do. However, neither should they have forced me to feel like a pariah.
Should I have remonstrated? Maybe. Maybe not. They had a right to their feelings, but not a right to destroy my self-esteem.
In my negative days, I never treated anyone like that and I had safe sex with a few, some might say ‘many’, HIV-positive men, and never flinched. The sort of behaviour these men display is, I realise now, something at which I cannot continue to be surprised. It is part of the baggage we carry as people with HIV.
Sex is a major part of most of our lives. When we enter into an intimate situation we expose not only our bodies, but part of our souls, and to have that rejected in such a brutal way, creates psychological waves that spread throughout the whole of the rest of our lives. It put me off sex and the possibility of finding a partner for a long time.
We have to be able to lead as normal a life as possible. We are sexual beings and have a right to be treated with the same respect that we give others. Never let anyone try and demean you or make you feel less human for having this disease. Living with it is a struggle, but in many ways that makes us stronger and we in no way contribute less to society either in the office or in the bedroom.
I’d like to leave you on a more upbeat note though, just to show you that not all experiences are like the ones I have described. I think back to a recent, wonderful, though fairly short-lived seven-month affair with a very beautiful Spanish man. Our relationship was serodiscordant (in other words, he was HIV-negative) and yet I was never aware that it ever gave him a moment’s concern, other than to make sure that there was always a huge supply of condoms available at any given time in every room in the house.
And let me tell you – that thing that the other guy wouldn’t let me do?...He let me do it to him over and over and over again. My hero!
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