Dan Savage has been writing “Savage Love,” an internationally syndicated sex advice column, for 10 years. Dan dispenses with psychobabble, rhetoric and sentiment, and in their place offers a challenging, contentious voice that is always full of surprises. (Warning: not for the faint of heart!) E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you warn against being a huge fucking slut, I know that I agree, but I don’t know if I’m being a huge fucking slut. I’ve had anal sex (with protection!) on the first date, and I’ve had sex with guys without quite remembering their names. But my lifetime sex-partner count is not that high (20!), even if I am a youngish gay guy who can’t go online without some dude asking me if I “bb” (bareback!). Help me, Dan! How do I know when I’m being a slut?
— Still a Little Unclear on This
Before we get to your question, SLUT, I’d like to say a few words to the folks out there, gay and straight, who want the whole bug-chasing subject to go away. (Straights want it to go away because it’s not about them; gays want it to go away because it ma kes us look bad.) Sorry, gang: This story isn’t going anywhere. Last week Reuters reported about (and the Drudge Report linked to) a documentary called “The Gift” that was packing ’em in at the Berlin Film Festival. Louise Hogarth’s film features interviews with “a number of gay men who have deliberately sought out the virus.” Should be a big hit on the U.S. film-fest circuit this summer.
Still, there is an upside for gay groups and AIDS organizations in the media’s growing obsession with the bug-chasing story: It draws attention away from a potentially more damaging story. That story? While only a tiny percentage of the roughly 17,000 new HIV infections in gay and bi men every year can be attributed to active bug chasing (less than 1 percent, according to a study conducted by the UCSF AIDS Health Project), that means the other 99 percent can be attributed to — let me put this as nicely as I possibly can — gay male stupidity, recklessness, naiveté and bad luck. And isn’t that a scandal in and of itself?
Maybe not. On his Web site last week, Andrew Sullivan — the conservative commentator, superstar weblogger and HIV-positive gay man — contemplated the difficulties in lowering HIV transmission rates. “Let’s say that science found treatments that reduced the rate of fatality from lung cancer due to smoking by, say, 80 percent,” Sullivan wrote. “What would you predict would happen?” More people would risk smoking, of course — just as more people today are willing to risk HIV infection. “[Perhaps] we have to get used to a certain level of HIV infection the way we have become used to herpes, and every other sexually transmitted disease which has affected mankind, gay and straight, for millennia?”
Perhaps we should get used to a certain level of HIV infection. Gay men are not going to stop having sex, after all, and sex can never be risk-free. What I can’t get used to — what appalls me — is gay men re-creating the kind of sex culture that opened the door for AIDS in the first place.
Michael Callen, the late author of, uh, “Surviving AIDS,” blamed the early HIV epidemic on the “rampant promiscuity” practiced by gay men in the 1970s. Never before had so many gay men had sex with so many other gay men — and Callen was no exception; by his own estimate, he had sex with thousands of men. “This level of sexual activity resulted in concurrent epidemics of syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis, amebiasis, venereal warts and, we discovered too late, other pathogens,” Callen wrote. “Unwittingly, and with the best of revolutionary intentions, a small subset of gay men managed to create the disease settings [that allowed AIDS to explode].”
Today a small subset of gay men is busily recreating those disease settings in backrooms, through chatrooms and in sex clubs. The only difference between gay men in the whoring ’70s and gay men today is that we can’t claim to be “unwitting” about the potential consequences. HIV may be less scary today than it once was, but if and/or when the next terrifying and/or deadly STD emerges (and my money’s on when, not if), well, let’s just say that there won’t be a tremendous amount of sympathy for gay men this time around.
End of lecture. Back to you, SLUT: How do you know when you’re being a slut? That’s a tough one. Sluttiness, like pornography, can be hard to define. And I’m not opposed to sluttiness per se. As one letter writer pointed out in last week’s column, I met my boyfriend of eight years under somewhat slutty circumstances. What can I say? I’ve had some slutty sexual adventures in my life, and I intend to have a few more before I drop dead. Still, I think it’s possible — or imperative — to make a distinction between doing something slutty every once in a while and doing something slutty every damn day. Any gay man who shows some restraint (i.e., doesn’t jump on every guy who looks at him funny) and uses his common sense (noninsertive sex or condoms with casual sex partners) can’t really be accused of being a slut. Is he guaranteed a life free of HIV and other STDs? No, he’s not. He could have bad luck or one terribly reckless moment or wind up in a relationship with a guy who lies to him. There are always risks. But by keeping our slutty moments to a minimum, we can also keep our risks to a minimum.
You recently wrote that “anal sex on a first date — even with condoms — is a bad idea.” I thought that as long as you used condoms during anal sex, it was considered safe.
— Chicago Cub
Condoms can break, tear, slip off or leak. They can also be removed midbuttfucking by inconsiderate, selfish assho … excuse me, by gay men with “issues.” If you’re like most sexually active gay men, CC, you go on a lot of first dates. Regularly engaging in first-date anal sex (FDAS) means that your chances of a badly timed break, tear, slip or leak are higher, as are your chances of landing in bed with one of those selfish assholes with issues. (Let’s call them “isholes.”) That’s why FDAS is a bad idea.
Why is the media so wrathful when it comes to gay men who bareback? Straight people do it ALL THE TIME!
— Equal Time
Yes, straight people do it all the time and they pretty much get a pass. Why? Because HIV infection is not as widespread among heteros as it is among homos. Hetero sex is less effective at spreading HIV; and heterosexual promiscuity will never be the runaway train that homosexual promiscuity once was and is quickly becoming again. (In straight land, ET, female sexual reserve acts as a built-in check on male sexual excess. No females in gayland, no built-in check.) So it’s not the least bit irrational for sexually active breeders to take fewer and/or different precautions, ET, and that’s what makes hetero barebacking not quite as newsworthy as the homo variety, which is very irrational.
OK, I’m done with the bug-chasing subject. A big thank-you to my readers and editor for putting up with three weeks’ worth of rants on one rather depressing subject. Next week in Savage Love: Sick and twisted questions from 100 percent straight perverts. Oh, and the Supreme Court rules on Katie’s Magic Wand.