HIV/AIDS has played a prominent role in my life. The first volunteer work I started with at 13 was volunteering for an AIDS organization in San Jose, CA in 1987. I did house cleaning and basic respite care for people living with HIV/AIDS.
I can remember when they finally started referring to HIV as HIV instead of a number of other acronyms. I remember watching the ACT-UP protests at the FDA fighting for basic help to get drugs to the (then) thousands of people dying of AIDS. I later worked on an amazing social psychology research team headed by Dr. Greg Herek (the same Dr. Herek who testified in the Prop 8 hearings). I ran the Bakersfield AIDS Foundation for a period. Needless to say, HIV/AIDS shaped my education, my political involvement, and my sexuality.
When I went through sex ed in high school, the lessons about HIV/AIDS was that sex will now kill you. That has softened and HIV/AIDS is now treated as just another STI – you don’t want it, but it is manageable.
It has been interesting to watch how HIV and the perceptions of HIV/AIDS has changed kink and safer sex practices.
When my partners are around my age or older, it is assumed that condoms are a must. There is really no discussion about this. If I have a new partner, or one I am not fluid-bonded with, they automatically look for the condoms before we have sex. Period.
Kink, Youth and Risk
Kink, however, has had a massive influx of younger people in the past few years. Safer sex practices and the perception of AIDS has changed.
People aged 20 to 24 account for 21 percent of the new HIV infections in the U.S. However, less than half of all people in the same age group believe that they are at risk for HIV (Kiaser Family Foundation, 2010). This leads to increased risky behavior. Less than 35 percent of people under 35 have been tested for HIV and know their status. More than half of people under 35 did not know they were HIV positive when they were diagnosed with HIV (CDC, 2015).
This is scary to me, and to those of us who lived through the first two waves of AIDS. Yes, HIV/AIDS is now much more manageable and more like a chronic illness for people with access to decent health care. This is an important caveat. Yes, ACA now provides options for accessing health care for everyone in the U.S. But… decent health care is another thing. I speak from experience. I have a chronic disorder (yet to be diagnosed) that causes severe, chronic and debilitating pain. After two years, I managed to get a recommendation to a pain clinic. I called, made the appointment, and got the first “urgent” appointment, nearly 5 months out from the scheduling date. Good health care is still very limited.
HIV is preventable. With the invention and availability of PrEP people can take a daily pill to prevent seroconversion if they are exposed to HIV. However, a vast majority of young people who have multiple partners are not taking PrEP. It is still not common to offer PrEP to patients except if they are in a few very high risk categories (e.g., self-identified gay men who report many partners, sex workers).
A lot of young people are not even aware of PrEP. That, coupled with the belief that HIV/AIDS is not a “real” risk means that millions of people are needlessly at risk for contracting HIV.
The belief that HIV is not a risk also increases risky behavior. I know plenty of people who have no problem having unprotected sex on a regular basis. There are actually online dating profiles that mention the person does not use condoms. That is just being stupid.
Twenty-five years ago when I was working in HIV education, there was a push to get gay men to recognize they are at risk for contracting the disease. There was a belief that AIDS only affected “others.” Those men who slept with hundreds of men, men who only fucked around with people from overseas, only Haitians…. HIV groups launched massive campaigns to educate gay men that EVERYONE was at risk.
A lot of this education worked. We slowed the spread of HIV. There is a big gap between the first and second wave of people with HIV. What made a difference was education. Sex education in the schools, awareness campaigns, campaigns to get people tested and treated were all necessary in decreasing the spread of HIV.
We have been moving away from that education. Sex ed in schools in the U.S. is dismal. Only half of all states require that information in sex ed classes be medically accurate. Money is still funneled into abstinence only sex ed when we know this does not work and increases STI and pregnancy rates in teens and young adults.
Call To Action for Kinksters
In the kink community, there is a weird perception among those under 35 that STIs and HIV are not a “real” issue. The truth is, it is. Kinky folks have practices like regular anal sex and play that occasionally involves blood (on purpose or accidentally) that increases exposure and risk for contracting HIV. We need to talk about it and educate our community that HIV is still an issue.
The gay leather community is better about promoting testing than other parts of the kink community. I know a number of public figures in the leather community who test publicly and help promote testing and prevention. The rest of the kink world needs to step up. We all need to promote testing, prevention, and knowing your status.
We don’t need third wave of HIV to make this obvious. We have lost too many people needlessly to this disease. So, go get tested. Know your status. Protect yourselves and your partners.
Kink values consent and communication. You cannot have full consent and communication if you don’t know your status.
In Sacramento, CA there are several places for free testing:
Finally, condoms are expensive. You don’t have to pay for them.
CondomFinder is a free app. Download it. Put in your ZIP code and get a list of all the places that provide condoms and lube for free. Health centers, bars, libraries, and more!!!