On Sex, Health and Shame

So this happened.

And then this happened.

And it’s got me thinking about how much unnecessary fuckery has gone down in the name of shame.

If you didn’t click the links, here’s the super skinny.  There’s Syphilis outbreak in the porn industry and one performer has come forward admitting he altered his STI test results.

“I tried to cover it up… Because I said it was like the scarlet letter. It’s the word. Syphilis, whoa,” Marcus said to XBiz. “Mr. Marcus, syphilis? Mr. Marcus, the one I worked with? The one that everybody works with? The one that’s been in this industry forever?”

So instead of being upfront about what was going on, dealing with it, and getting back to life, this elaborate cover/protecting scheme gets put up and the net result is more problems than ever needed to happen.  Why?  Because he didn’t want to be that guy and live with the stigma of having an STI.

I have sympathy and empathy for him.  The stigma is real and it’s not fun.  Sexually transmitted infections come with judgement and shame that no other infections carry.

Think about it, no one ever questions your hygiene for having a cold or flu, but apparently when it comes to the physical state of your sexual bits you’re either clean or …..  well, few people have the gall to say it, but the implication is clear: you’re dirty.

It sucks, and it’s unfair, and it’s an example of the shaming that people who have STI’s experience.

And that shame causes people to do really stupid things.  It causes people to lie about their status.  It causes people to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to get tested.  It causes people to think that STI’s are something that happen to other people who didn’t do enough right things.

People – Sexually Transmitted Infections are a thing.

Kissing and mutual masturbation have been sold to my generation ways to engage in sexual contact safely;  but HVP can transmitted through hand-to-genital contact and Syphilis can be transmitted (in it’s early stages) by kissing.  There is no safe; there is only risk reduction and abstinence.

Testing is good, but it’s all after the fact.  Testing will not protect you.  Barriers protect you.  Barriers also can be a hindrance for some people (and when it comes to herpes transmittion you’d need a latex suit); so you’re not going to convince me their the solution to the world’s problems.  As I see it, you’ve got three options.  1) Abstain  2) Hope for the best and take solace in your ignorance 3) Be realistic about what your risks are, protect yourself to the level you’re comfortable with, and have a plan in place for when you do get an infection.

If Option 1 works for you – awesome, but it doesn’t work for me.  Because I’m just talking about a period of abstinence; or “abstaining until marriage”  I’m talking about spending your entire life abstaining for sexual contact with others.

Option 2 really don’t work for anyone – and yet it really seems to be a popular option.  Lots of people will tell you their status is negative, but when was the last time that was tested?  Did enough time pass between sexual contact and testing for an infection to even show up?   Did they specifically request a full screening?  Did they swab their mouths/throat?  Have they had any sexual contact since that time?

Option 3 is far and away the best option…  so why doesn’t everyone practice it?  Honestly, it makes sense, and  I just.. and the… huh…ugnh!

—-insert brain resetting breath here—–

Earlier this week Gwaker featured an article exploring HIV and the hook up scene among gay men (Please don’t infect me, I’m sorry) that’s worth the read when you have time.  The article specififcly references using Grindr (a hook up app) to find people, but I think what the article brings to light applies to a much larger sphere – who can you trust with your sexual health and how do you know you can trust them?

What really stuck out for me in the article comes from the author’s talks with  Bryan Kutner, a counselor who was in South Africa working with an HIV-prevention group.  Kutner is also a key populations specialist and a consultant with Columbia University and the Harm Reduction Coalition.  Please substitute he with theyguy with person and HIV with STI.

[Say] one profile says nothing about status, another says he’s negative, another says he’s positive and undetectable, etc. As a thought experiment, let’s imagine that what people say online about themselves is always true – which is a stretch to begin with, but let’s go with it for now. The guy whose viral load is undetectable might be the better choice for reducing the chance of transmission; he knows his status, he takes his meds, he has no measurable HIV in his blood. The other guys don’t say their status or they say they’re negative. The unknown status guy could have HIV but not want to say anything about it…Then there’s the negative guy. He’s either truly negative or he just thinks he’s negative; if it’s the latter, then in all likelihood his viral load is more of a transmission risk than the guy who knows his status and has undetectable viral load. Based on counseling NYC men testing for HIV, plenty of “negative” guys fuck without a condom and naively think they and the guy they just fucked is negative – so what they say about being negative is true, but it isn’t accurate since a guy’s HIV status is subject to change before he knows it has changed.

Educated people are in a place where they can reduce harm.  Ignorant people are not.

It’s that simple.

Please stop being ignorant so that you can have the best shot at protect yourself and those you engage in sexual activity with.

And please, please, please stop with the shaming so that people don’t feel like there is no other option but than to lie about their sexual health.

Stop the unnecessary fuckery.


3 thoughts on “On Sex, Health and Shame

  1. Blaze says:

    “Because I’m just talking about a period of abstinence; or “abstaining until marriage” I’m talking about spending your entire life abstaining for sexual contact with others.”

    I don’t disagree with your options, but I find it sad to contemplate that the two choices seem to be “Be totally celibate forever” or “Expect to get an STI, regardless of what you do”. Since I’m worried about the financial consequences of an STI that requires lifelong medication, I’ve found myself scared into celibacy.

    If shame isn’t okay, I’ve venture that fear isn’t much better.

    1. Heather says:

      I’m sorry to hear the above post is scaring you celibate – that’s not my intent. But look at the world around you, it’s kinda a scary place. Opportunities to get an illness, or an injury abound in daily life, but does that stop the average person from living?


      We educate ourselves about risks and take steps to mitigated them. We look both ways before crossing the street; we hire people who know how to fly planes before we let people get on them – hell, we wash our hands and do a temperature check on our meat.

      These all things most people do on a daily basis and none of them are a big deal. Why should sex be any different?

      1. Blaze says:

        Your thoughts aren’t affecting my choice, I’m already celibate, for many reasons, including the knowledge that non-monogamous, multiple person sex is risk, risk of illness is cost, and I’m risk averse when it comes to my financial health. This isn’t new, but a process over the last year.

        That may change at some point, but I don’t anticipate that right now.

        I DO agree that shame is counterproductive.

        I respect people who are informed about their health and able to communicate about it, regardless of what the status is. It would make me respect them more, not less.

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