Editors' Note: Guest blogger Zack Rosen is a founder and first full-time employee of The New Gay, an online resource for alternative queer events and ideas based in Washington, DC.
Picture this: It's the dead of winter and someone walks by you in shorts and a windbreaker, shivering. Or it's midnight in Adams Morgan and you see some guy on a bike with no helmet and no lights listening to iPod headphones. Someone drives too fast down a side street while texting and blasting their radio. You see them and shake your head, thinking "What a dumbass."
A couple years ago when one of the cutest boys I'd ever seen begged me to f@ck him without a condom. Actually, beg is the wrong word. He pleaded. He whined. He implored me not to use one as if it was simply some seasoning our sexual entree that he found disagreeable. Condoms, however, are not cilantro and I refused to eat without one. And the next morning I found his blood on my sheets, meaning that if he had listened to me, and I was HIV+, he would've been too. What a dumbass.
Why are guys these days getting the idea that it is ever OK to have casual sex without condoms? Growing up in the '90s , safe sex messages where everywhere. I couldn't watch TV, read a magazine or even ride The El through Chicago without seeing some visual or audio reminder that condom use wasn't a choice, it was a public duty. Now? DC was just ranked number one in the country for HIV cases. But what does that mean? An abstract series of numbers will rarely change someone's heart. What works better is personal responsibility. It is no longer a choice to wear condoms when having sex with someone of an unknown status. You just have to do it.
I was having a conversation with a HIV+ friend of mine. A mother hen for DC's newly arrived gay youth, he helps kids in need find jobs, rent affordable apartments and connect to social networks. He is also the first person they turn to when they find out that they, too, are positive. This makes him sad. "It is very hard to get HIV," he said to me. He pointed out that it involves a perfect storm of sexual circumstance: The non-infected has to have unprotected, receptive anal sex. He has to bleed. The infected generally has to be topping, and have a high enough viral load to transmit the infection. The best way to make it not happen is to wear a condom. Period.
I've heard a number of excuses: they don't feel good, they kill the mood, they aren't necessary. There a million reasons not to wear a condom, but none of them trump the one very important reason to wear one. That one reason is a literal matter of life and death.
I don't say this to damn or shame those that already have the virus. It's an odd paradox, but one that I believe in nonetheless. If you have already contracted HIV, my heart goes out to you and I wish you the best of luck in all its attendant circumstances. If you don't have it, though, I'm sure that all those in the former category would gladly do everything possible to make sure you never get it. The best way to do this? I'll keep saying it. Wear condoms. Tell your friends to wear condoms. Go about your daily life as if this is an act akin to breathing.
But for some people, obviously, it is not. What are the reasons that some of us out there still have unprotected sex? You can sleep with whoever you want as long as you are safe about it. If you do the former, and not the latter, you're setting yourself up for trouble. No matter if it feels better or you trust the other person or you pull out in time. It is now up to each and everyone of us to do something about this.
Our gay forebears suffered through the living hell of the 80s. They watched their friends die. They fought for health care and government aid and awareness among the general public. For what? So we could become confident and complacent and lose all their lessons?
You have to wear condoms. You can even pick some up for free at the next Homo/sonic. It's the least we can do. But can we be doing anything else?
A couple years ago, in a separate incident, I told a soon-to-be sexual partner that I was going to grab a condom from my nightstand. He responded "Oh, you're so responsible" as if I was choosing to put on my seatbelt for a spin around the block or double-lock my door. I would have rather he called me responsible for choosing not to shoot him with a gun or hit him with a car. I wouldn't consider those lethal acts to be anything less than off-limits in my own moral compass. Condom use should be considered the same way.