Tuesday, December 1, 2009

in which i talk about sex at Morgan State

Last night I went to Morgan State and did a Hot Safer Sex class with the Rainbow Soul (Morgan's Gay/Straight Alliance).

It was a blast.

So I get there, check in with the woman who was organizing the event, set out my stuff and wait for folks to show up. People came in, laughing and greeting people, taking seats in a huge circle.

When I teach Hot Safer Sex, one thing I always take into account is the audience I'm addressing. Young people in Northern Virginia need to hear slightly different statistics than folks in Baltimore City. And young people at one of Baltimore's two Historically Black Colleges need to hear slightly different statistics than people at an event for white women over 40 in Roland Park.

Because 2/3rds of diagnosed sexually transmitted infections occur in people under 25.

And people who are African American in Maryland are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. 82% of AIDS cases and 75% of HIV cases in Maryland occur in people that are African American. Only 29% of people in Maryland are African American, a huge disparity.

Although the leading cause of HIV transmission in MD is heterosexual intercourse, a 2004 study found that in Baltimore City, among men who have sex with men, 40 % were positive for HIV. Most of them were unaware of their infection. This study tested men who were congregating at or around gay clubs and/or events, so the number likely excludes some of the lower risk men who have sex with men, but it certainly indicates that we have a significant problem.

No matter how you cut it, we have a crisis in this city. Baltimore is fourth in the nation in per capita AIDS cases. Just down the road is Washington, DC. With the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country at around 3% of the population.

What group that is seeing steady increases in numbers of new cases of HIV in Baltimore? It's people under 29. In fact the number of new HIV diagnoses doubled from 2001 to 2007.

This doesn't take into account other sexually transmitted infections. Which are more common, and contracted in the same ways - unprotected sexual contact.

All of these facts were weighing heavily on my mind when I walked into that room. Here was a group of young, smart African American people who were willing to listen while I talked about safer sex. And I had to do it in a way that they could hear.

It's that last part that's challenging.

Usually safer sex ed focuses on the scary numbers, or on frightening pictures of worst case presentations of disease. Frankly, those scary pictures hurt more than they help. If someone has a lesion on their stuff, they may not worry about it until it starts to look like that scary picture. And let me tell you. I've seen a lot of genital warts. They rarely look like those pictures. Second of all, scare tactics instill a fear of sex, not respect. Fear works. For a while. Until it doesn't. And the precautions go by the wayside.

Because at some point the extremity of fear based education doesn't ring true in our lives. No one talks about it when they get diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, so it feels like it doesn't happen in our peer group. And HIV? It is, after all, one of the least common sexually transmitted infection in the US. It's easy to think you don't know anyone with HIV. Or that something scary and deadly isn't going to happen to you. Those things happen to other people. Until it does happen to you.

I walk a very careful line between talking about the hard cold facts, normalizing the facts (seriously - the common cold? that's the most common sexually transmitted infection), and offering means of prevention that are accessible and sexy. Condoms, dental dams, gloves, vibrators.

Yep. Vibrators. Just because sex is safe doesn't mean it can't be sexy. If you use a vibrator on your partner, and that vibrator belongs to them and only them, there's no exchange of body fluid. You just had hot safer sex.

Or strap ons. Talk about safer sex! Use a silicone dildo (or metal or glass - materials that are body safe and won't absorb bacteria or virus). It's sanitizable, it's sexy, it's durable. Use a harness you can actually wash. Once again, smoking hot safer sex.

Or a butt plug that you insert in your partner, after massaging their ass, gently using lube while wearing a nitrile glove. That glove? Not only does it protect your hand from exposure to disease, but it protects your partner's ass from exposure to scratchy skin or hang nails. After you remove the glove, you can safely touch yourself.

Or how you talk about using protection. "It's cause I care about you, unless we've been monogamous for six months, we need to protect each other". Caring protection. That's hot.

So we talked. At first I depressed them a little bit. Because some of the numbers are scary. And we had fun talking about sex toys and safety.

They asked really good questions. We laughed. I think they might have learned something. I hope that they learned that sex is whole. It is hot and dangerous and earth shattering and boring and fascinating and delightful. When we treat sex and our bodies in a manner that is risk aware and respectful sex becomes more fun, more fulfilling and ultimately safer.

Happy World AIDS Day.

Get tested. Know your status. And celebrate the hot opportunities in safer sex. You're only bound by your own creativity!

Blessings to those of you who've dared to be out about your battles with HIV and AIDS. You've changed my life.

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