A word on the condom issue

condom-couture-dress-made-of-condoms-for-aids-charityRecently I received a very nice review for Scrum. The reader enjoyed the story, but snickered a little at the lack of condom=no anal sex business. While this is his right, it also makes me worry. He defined it as “something that appeals to women readers.”

I know, because I have gay friends, gay acquaintances, and read a lot, that condom use and safer sex practices are far from universal. The moment gets away from you, the other guy is so damned hot, you trust what he said about his status, you don’t believe that HIV is a problem, whatever.

Except, it’s not whatever. It’s someone’s life. Many someones.

CDC estimates that approximately 50,000 people in the United States are newly infected with HIV each year. In 2010 (the most recent year that data are available), there were an estimated 47,500 new HIV infections.a Nearly two thirds of these new infections occurred in gay and bisexual men.

I’m old enough to remember when being diagnosed with AIDS meant not starting long novels. I remember friends coughing their way down to 89 lb skeletons. I remember going to funerals for men who should have had many vibrant decades ahead of them.

Yes, we have a whole host of drugs now that we didn’t then. I’m a pharmacist in my other life; I dispense a lot of them. To young, youngish, medium, and older men. I worked for a while in the Infectious Diseases pharmacy at a major hospital. I talked to men older than their years who picked up meds for themselves and their partner, and heard that Partner was fine, but sometimes Partner wasn’t doing so well. I counseled young men on side effects, dosing times, and condom use and saw yeah yeah, lady, save it for someone who cares in their eyes. I saved the condom talk for last because I needed them to still be listening when I explained take this-avir and that-avir together, space other-avir out by an hour, don’t take antacids at all, it deactivates one of them. And finish all the antibiotics, because a case of syphilis that travels to the brain is a bad thing.

And my heart broke a little for the young ones, the ones coming in for the first time, because if someone had given them the condom talk and made it stick back when, maybe they wouldn’t be standing in my window now.

This was in 2007.

I left the ID Clinic and went back to long term care, which really means nursing homes. I still dispense a lot of HAART (Highly active anti-retroviral therapy), this time to men with HIV encephalopathy. Their brains resemble a good grade of Swiss cheese; they can’t look after themselves. They’re in their forties, fifties and sixties, institutionalized, and instead of spending their time with lovers and friends, they have the psychotic and demented residents to hang out with for the next twenty years. They don’t dance under the flashing lights, or walk their dogs in the park, or paint, or read, or build something, or even maintain much of a conversation. Sure, their condition isn’t progressing, they aren’t crawling with opportunistic infections, but this isn’t a life I would wish on anyone.

A lot of people take their meds, live their lives, which is great; it’s medicine at work, managing a chronic condition that’s been beaten back to the level of aggravating, not threatening. But the meds still govern their lives, telling them to swallow this now, this other in a while, don’t eat this or drink that, it interacts. Don’t go skiing in the mountains without a handful of pills, don’t fly to Paris just because it’s spring unless all those bottles come along, and they’d better be full enough to last the trip.

So yeah, the whole condom issue appeals to women and gets written into a lot of m/m romance. We love our gay friends and family and treasure their well-being; we value our characters and project our concern onto them. We women have all grown up knowing something that not all men understand or want to acknowledge:

There’s stuff in semen that can completely change your life.

25 responses to “A word on the condom issue

  1. Thank you. It’s important. Well said. I’m sharing.

  2. Reblogged this on BookLover62 and commented:
    The message was valid when I first started working in AIDS in 1990, and it is still true today.

  3. Reblogged. The message is true today, as it was when I first started in AIDS work in 1990.

  4. Thank you, Z and Booklover. I didn’t intend to do a PSA but that review really got me thinking.

  5. Excellent post. I too remember those horrible days. I worked in hospitals and was in employee benefits in the late 80’s through the 90’s and to have to look some vibrant but gone too soon young man’s mother in the face as I dispensed his life insurance proceeds check was beyond heartbreaking. And I had to do it far too many times. Thanks for the reminder. I don’t think this message can be delivered too many times.

  6. Reblogged this on LE Franks, writer and commented:
    This is a powerful and universal reminder. I don’t want to lose anymore friends. Not for something as simple as gloving up. Play Safe.

  7. Reblogged, PD. Very true and a real problem. As I said on Eden’s share of this, the issue is serious. Some people think unsafe sex and a prophylactic antiviral immediately after is the answer. The gay morning after pill. Perhaps that will be one answer, but is it the best answer? The scary thing is that recent research and testing at gay venues show that a significant proportion do not know they are HIV positive.

  8. An amazing essay. Thank you, PD. Sharing.

  9. Thanks for this – and yes, I’m sharing

  10. I’m a stickler for the condom issue. I know it’s not realistic for two men in the heat of coupling to stop and grab that condom every single time, but I want to be a part of making it part of the subconscious. I wish guys would jusy grow that reflex,because I was there in the eighties as well and I know that if you forget it one time, the 999 time before when you did remember it might as well never have happened.
    I recently talked to a young gay man who waved it off. HIV is nothing, he said. You take a pill and it’s okay. I couldn’t walk away. I gave him a lecture….

  11. I’m with you, P.D.! Great post.

  12. Awesome post! Condoms are important for good health! I wish everyone would use them as long as they weren’t absolute certain of their partners.

  13. What a wonderful and heartfelt post about why HIV is still a serious health issue. It ruins lives. I gave my sons their first condoms and the lectures to go with them. Maybe they’re why your last line made me laugh. 🙂

  14. Thank you – well said. I do take meds for something else, and life isn’t entirely spontaneous. Time to refill before every trip, count them out so they last in case I get stuck an extra few days, and so on. And that’s peanuts compared to someone on HAART.

  15. Thank you for sharing this PD. This subject comes up from time to time and it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a male or female author or whether condoms are used or not. The use or lack thereof takes someone out of the story. I’m good with knowing they’re there and if they’re part of the foreplay, that’s a bonus. Love the last line. I told my son that I didn’t care if the girl is using birth control, HE is in charge of his own body and it’s his responsibility to take care of it. Love the last line. Can’t wait to quote it.

  16. Beautifully written, Pd. A blog worth sharing. 🙂

  17. Thank you, everyone, for stopping by and for boosting the signal. This is a problem that truly hasn’t gone away.

  18. Reblogged this on The Blogger Girls and commented:
    I have to reblog this because the words couldn’t be truer. We see so many middle aged men in the advanced stages of AIDS at my hospital…still denying what has happened. This is a tragically real and sad problem. And yes I am a female reading gay male-male romance…and condoms will always be sexier than disease…even in fiction.

  19. Great article. I have done a lot of engaging with teenagers on safe sex issues and I would just like to share a short story. Whilst talking to a young man about his previous nights antics he said that he had not used a condom. When asked why he was not swimming he replied – because I have a verruca!!


  20. eileengriffin77

    Reblogged this on eileengriffin.

  21. suebrownstories

    Reblogged this on ukgayromance and commented:
    I know this is not from a UK author, but it’s no less relevant to us.

  22. Reblogged this on Posy Roberts and commented:
    Definitely worth a read. Please follow the link.

  23. Keep writing responsible characters. The condom issue isn’t a woman thing, it is a human being thing, because those diseases come along for a ride. Life changing infections (much more than HIV) for moments of pleasure. Keep up the great work!

  24. lorrainedimmockemerald1

    Very, very well said. People tend to think nowadays, HIV and AIDS is not the death sentence it once was. I too remember the terrible 80’s when so many men died and people need to stay safe.

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