I was talking the other day with a friend – a young whippersnapper. She had just had unprotected vaginal sex with a guy she had just met. I was a little mortified. “But you have unprotected oral sex in sex clubs all the time!” she protested.
It’s true. Or rather, I don’t do it “all the time,” much as I might like that. But I do, as a matter of at least some regularity, have unprotected oral sex with people I hardly know. And, for years, I had a lot of unprotected oral sex with people I was paying – people who, presumably, were higher risk than those I might meet through more, um, conventional means. But I wouldn’t dream of fucking a woman without a condom (other than T). Not then, and not now.
Occasionally, when T and I are dating other couples, those couples will say things like, “Have you been tested?” Or, “When was the last time you were tested?” On one occasion, a couple asked to see our test results. My response is always somewhat incredulous. You don’t even know my real name (many people don’t date using their real names when they’re dating as couples; T and I don’t), and you’re prepared to believe whatever it is I have to say about test results? I mean, really! First, I could just flat out lie: “YES, I’ve been tested, and I’m clean” (when, in fact, I’m syphilitic, gonorrheal, chlamydiatic, not to mention herpetic and HIV-positive). Or, I could tell the truth, but shade it: “YES, I was tested, and I’m clean” (but the test was two years ago). Or I could claim to have been tested, but in fact, never to have been.
Or, I could tell the actual truth: “Yes, I get tested once or twice a year, and the last time I was tested was about six months ago, and I was clean then.” (This is the truth for me.)
I’ve had a lot of unprotected oral sex in my life, much of it, as I said, with women I was paying. I’ve had good fortune. I had a case of gonorrhea when I was eighteen, contracted as a result of a rape in West Africa (I was the victim – true story). It was treated – promptly and aggressively – with antibiotics, and it was cured. I had genital warts in my 20s. I had them frozen off, and have never had a recurrence. And I’ve never tested positive for any sexually transmitted infection otherwise, though I’ve been tested at least annually, and most years, twice, since I was about twenty.
I’ve always wondered about just what it is people think they possibly could learn as a result of inquiries about testing: if I show you my papers – a clean test result, say, two weeks old, it still doesn’t tell you that I’m clean. Maybe, it tells you I was two weeks ago. But I could have spent a debauched fourteen days at Le Trapeze, and not used a condom once. And then, what good is that paper going to do you?
This is why my presumption is that everyone I have sex with, or fool around with, has every disease I don’t want.
First, I assume we all have HPV and herpes. I’ve never had a herpes outbreak (nor have I ever tested positive for herpes, but my doctor, as a matter of policy, refuses to test – he just tells me, “Yeah, you have it – everyone does.”). In fact, that’s an exaggeration: according to New York’s Department of Health, five years ago, 39% of women, and 19% of men, had it. According to Peter Leone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, the incidence of herpes among unmarried women between 40 and 50 years of age is 50-75%. Me, I round up, and figure that, a) if it’s that high, and b) given that herpes can be spread even when there’s no outbreak, it’s just safer to imagine we all have it. So, if you want to know if I have it, assume I do; and I’ll assume you do. That’s what the smart money says is good policy, anyway.
As for HPV, here’s what I learned from reading the CDC’s web site: “Because HPV is so common and usually invisible, the only sure way to prevent it is not to have sexual contact.” Um, no thanks. I’ll just assume I have that one, too. And that you do, too.
Next, there are all the other sexually transmitted infections and maladies (other than, for now, HIV) – gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, crabs, etc. To my knowledge, these diseases all are treatable with antibiotics, or soap, or razors, or some combination. So while I hope not to get them, or to give them to you, I’m not that worried about them. My case of gonorrhea was really unpleasant. For, like, a week. I might have had crabs once. I honestly can’t recall. So for all these, my view is, if I get them, I get them. I figure that getting tested every 6-12 months is probably good enough protection against those diseases which are so asymptomatic that I wouldn’t notice if I had them in the first place.
And then, finally, there’s HIV. Maybe it’s a function of my having come of sexual age at the height of the AIDS epidemic, or maybe it’s just that I’m really conservative, but I emerged from my adolescence believing that “fluid-bonding” was something very special – something you only do with someone you really trust. And, if you read my story, I demonstrated aptly that sometimes even those we really trust lead sexual lives characterized by some combination of secrecy and betrayal. And, honestly, I just assume that others are at least as likely to be CPOSs as I ever was. And HIV scares the shit out of me. All those other diseases, infections, whatever? I’ll take ’em. Either a chronic, occasionally symptomatic, but not particularly health-threatening situation, or an infection easily treatable? No problem!
But HIV? NFW! Condoms for me, thanks. Even though they do suck.
So since T and I started dating, more than fifteen years ago now (!), I’ve not had unprotected vaginal (or anal) intercourse with any other human. And I won’t. Until, I suspect, the day I die.
That’s just how I roll.