Turning the tables to protect my sexual health and my heart’s desires
by John Francis Leonard
The last thing I wanted to do this month was talk, yet again, about a social app interaction. Last week though, I had an encounter that really gave me pause. A simple hook-up, once a matter of routine in my life, made me ask myself some fairly important questions about who I am today and what I am looking for in my interactions with other men.
I received a message from a man (we’re both in our mid-forties) with whom I’ve texted in the past, though not regularly (I’ll call him David here). David is a nice guy and we’d never really talked much about actually getting together for sex or anything else. He actually seemed kind of shy, which usually doesn’t really attract me. Well, he seemed to have gotten over his reticence and got straight to the point. “Are we ever going to finally hook up?” he asked. My interest was piqued; I’m a guy who appreciates a direct approach. He definitely had my attention.
But here’s the rub. I’ve sworn to myself, more than once, that the next man I have sex with will at least be spending the night in my bed. Casual sex simply isn’t working for me anymore. But being a red-blooded male of my species, something other than my heart took over. We engaged in some heavy sexting and decided to get together on Sunday, a few days later. He expressed a definite desire to bareback, since he was on PrEP. I reminded him of my status, and he was fine with that, especially when I quickly explained the latest proof that being undetectable meant that I’m not infectious. That was the first thing that gave me pause and I shocked myself. I can’t explain it, even now, but his eager willingness to bareback made me uncomfortable. This is not a man who would likely be my partner, in which case, sex without a condom would be a matter of trust, carefully thought out and discussed.
Then came something else which provoked a reaction in me. He glibly told me that he would be a bit worn out on Sunday, having gone to a “barn party” the night before. I guess a barn party is actually in a barn (of all things) set up as a sex club. There are slings, orgy spaces, private rooms, even a stockade. Evidently, these were well attended gatherings where much fun could be had. Now, in my younger days, I was all about sometimes attending a sex club or bathhouse, albeit in a major U.S. or European city, not a barn. But my point is, that it’s just not where I am right now in my life. However, one of the great things about being a gay man is that we have choices. And while I respect his completely, it just doesn’t do it for me anymore. More importantly, it’s not something I’m looking for in a man, and every man for me is a possible partner. I look at every interaction through that lens now, I can’t help it.
My other concern is my own sexual health. David was planning on having unprotected sex with multiple men the very night before proposing to have it with me. Again, I’m not judging. We, each of us, decide what amount of risk is tolerable to us. HIV aside, STDs are rampant in my area. Just last year, I contracted gonorrhea rectally in an encounter with a partner who was also positive. I assumed a risk, and drew the wrong card. It was not pleasant and it took more than one course of antibiotics to clear up. So I was suddenly having mixed feelings about this “date.”
On Friday night however, I had a few glasses of wine and was feeling at loose ends and, frankly, rather lonely. Looking at Growlr, I saw that he was just a mile away. We started chatting and it turns out that he had just finished dinner with a friend and had no plans. I invited him over but was very clear. It would be to actually just hang out with maybe some kissing and cuddling thrown in. It was a definite risk, but he seemed quite happy with the idea. And so we did. It wasn’t completely fair on my part. I was having definite second thoughts about our date for sex on Sunday. But maybe, just maybe we’d connect. He would swear his undying love and forgo his Saturday sex romp and we’d live happily ever after in complete monogamy. The Chardonnay had definitely dulled my sense of reality.
We had an okay time, things got a little frisky, but nothing unsafe. I got another earful about these barn parties and made my decision. I was, to my chagrin, turned off by his sexual license. For a change, it was me, not my prospective partner, unwilling to take a risk. I was turned off sexually as well as daunted by the possibility of another STD. The tables had certainly turned. So, I would send him an email Saturday and either make my excuses for Sunday, politely lie, or simply block him on the app and hope he got the hint. That’s not my style however; I had to explain myself without making him feel judged in any way. This would be problematic. Well, I simply put it off and hoped that like a lot of guys you meet online he would flake, he didn’t disappoint. I haven’t heard a word a word from him since. Not so fast though, I thought I was the one judging for a change? Was I found lacking somehow? Was the assumed risk of my HIV status too much in the end?
It’s immaterial. What’s important here is that I’ve made a decision for myself. I can’t change his reaction—I never could. Nor with any man who rejected me because of my status. I decided in this interaction what was acceptable for me. I hope to forgo condoms with the man I choose to spend the rest of my life with. A casual trick is entirely another matter. Also, I’m looking for something and someone meeting certain criteria. I’m just not interested in a quick encounter any more than I am in an involved relationship with a man who can’t settle down. My Mr. Right won’t be down for a barn party, a bathhouse, or a quick anonymous hook-up. I’m just drawn that way now.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.