I’VE BEEN ENJOYING my Writing from the Chakras course, which is now half over. As last year, I wanted to post something every week; also as last year, I have not kept up. But I will still post something from every week, every chakra. So, here is a belated sexploration from week 2 (and a link to last year’s), the Sexy Chakra.
In thinking about how I wanted to spend my time that week, I felt a bit overwhelmed, the good ideas spilling out of me, swirling in my head way faster than I could get them down on the page. It’s where my and my fictional characters’ deepest problems, worries, and longings reside. It is a place of celebration and joy, too, and I wanted to express that, to not get hung up on the negative side.
Both sides were important to me since I could see how both were embodied in the single idea of feeling so deeply in touch with my innate sexuality—the joy that it brings, groundedness in true connection, wild intimacy, and knowing another on a deep (maybe the deepest possible) level; and, at the same time, the immense sadness of having lost something so long ago, the sorrow of a long journey back to innocent loving, giving, pleasurable touch and understanding (and how that loss is echoed in the AIDS epidemic, no small thing). The incredible wastefulness of it all, the time lost, and the mental anguish endured still boggle me.
I have spent a lifetime trying to get back to that feeling where sex is all good, where there is no shame, no hiding, no deception, no trickery involved in pretending or fooling the other person into falling into what you both wanted from the start. Yet, even with all the thought (and writing) I had invested in this, the years of experimenting and experiencing, living and giving in the most loving, open, vulnerable, exposed way I knew how, I struggled still.
I am still working my way back to a time when there was no shame, no hurt, no judgment, no loneliness, no danger, no loss. I still look for that feeling—I’ve had glimpses of it—of completeness, of contentment and satisfaction in knowing that I am loved, I am seen, really seen, and that everything is all right.
Sex has always held an element of danger for me, whether it is the imagined danger of transgressing or getting caught or going to hell, or just of going somewhere I’ve never been before, a not knowing—there is some excitement in that kind of danger.
There is emotional danger, the risk of rejection and disappointment, of not getting that phone call back after what you thought was pretty good sex and a nice connection. The suffering of trying to repeat a happiness, combined with the suffering of trying to find it in the first place, can be enough to make even the strongest among us doubt the wisdom of trying at all. A lot of people give up.
Even during the happy time, it can be hard to banish completely worry over whether the happiness can be sustained. Like the erection I’m afraid of losing before the condom is out of the package and unrolled, these things can easily become self-fulfilling sadnesses.
And what if it does work out and I get a relationship going? Do I take the risk of talking about difficult things or do I instead avoid rocking the boat of my good fortune, thereby all but ensuring the relationship’s demise? Is there anything more demoralizing than a breakup?
Then there are, of course, physical dangers. It occurred to me some decades into my sexual life that I almost always choose partners with bodies smaller than mine. How’s that for a control issue? I chalk it up to not ever wanting to be in a situation I can’t get out of (and no handcuffs or ropes either, thanks, unless I know and trust you). Similarly, I seem to always be aware of the location of the nearest exit in a relationship.
There is the physical danger of AIDS. Having come to the party a little late, my sexual awakening coincided perfectly with the national shutting down of sex. It felt like one of those big, heavy metal doors being rolled down over the front of a shop, and I’m left there standing on the sidewalk with my coupons.
I shouldn’t complain really. I’m alive today because of it. It’s not so hard to adapt to safe sex when you’ve not yet had the experience of full-on gay sex without the barriers. That and seeing people dropping dead all around me made it reasonably easy to adopt safe sex.
I understood the logic of the ubiquitous prevention messages and knew I could, through sheer force of stubborn will, adhere to them like a straight-A student; yet I always felt uncomfortable with the admonition to use a condom every single time, to always assume your partner could be positive. Yes, it was practical, sound advice from a public health perspective at a time when literally half of all gay men in the city were HIV-positive. It was a simple, easy-to-understand guideline that made rational sense.
But it doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to see how this might all come across as unappealing, albeit necessary, advice to a young gay man just coming to terms with and learning to celebrate his fierce gay pride. To see my lovers as potentially deadly, as ticking time bombs just waiting for a moment of weakness in my safe-sex resolve to explode in my ass, constituted a turn-off to say the least.
It was not so much that I wanted to have sex without condoms, those literal barriers between us, though I didn’t like them and I could imagine I might be missing out on something pretty fabulous, having heard as much from those who had experienced such a thing. I was not even particularly afraid of the virus, by which I mean I trusted condoms to do their job and trusted myself to use them properly and consistently, good student that I was.
It was this: I didn’t like assuming my partners were lying.
That was the part I could never get used to. I didn’t like being told to treat every partner as someone who could be, through malevolence or selfishness or just plain ignorance, putting my life at risk. I didn’t like always coming from a place of distrust and fear. I thought, We are better than that.
We are in a different time now, and a lot of people seem to be having a hard time wrapping their heads around it. In an era where condoms aren’t the only safe sex choice, where you are safer fucking an HIV-positive man on treatment and undetectable than practically anyone else, where preventative treatment has been shown to work, and where—let’s just be honest and say it—HIV is nowhere near as scary as it once was, it might be time to consider what safety means and to reevaluate our risk tolerance and our approach to safe sex, each of us in our own way.
Nobody is saying to throw safety out the window, though you would never know it from reading the claims of screeching op-eds to the contrary. But the game has undeniably changed, hard as it may be to take that in (understandably—we’ve been living with the same safe-sex messages for 30 years, after all). That said, it has always been the case that you don’t need protection if you’re having sex with someone you know to be of the same status, positive or negative, as yourself. If you trust that person and are sure of your own status, then you have a choice.
In my book, trust is necessary to intimacy, and intimacy is necessary to good sex (and good sex is just, well, if not necessary, at least important). Sometimes I choose to trust. I’m not stupid about it. With guys I know and love and trust, though, I have chosen to lay down my fear. That doesn’t guarantee that I will never contract HIV by mistake, but the odds are on my side; and in a world full of uncertainty—where HIV matters, but so do other things—it is a minuscule risk I find worth taking.
And yes, sure, sex without condoms feels better—my older gay brothers were not lying—but more than that, it feels way better mentally. It’s what I was missing.