I love Teen Vogue. In this era of clickbait and fake news, Teen Vogue has been a standout by crafting thoughtful and compelling stories that resonate with a diversity of teens as well as a larger audience. But with admiration comes expectation.
I was very excited to read the piece, “Anal Sex What You Need To Know.” It was commendable that Gigi Engle wrote an honest and fact-based piece about the still taboo subject of anal sex. Unfortunately, she got one major thing wrong. Condomless anal sex is not “non-negotiable.”
I agree with Engle that “being in the dark is not doing your sexual health or self-understanding any favors,” and that is why we must be able to have an honest discussion about condomless anal sex.
Sex without condoms can present risks but providing individuals information so they can make informed decisions about their health is fundamental. To dismiss the option of condomlesss anal sex and to echo the age old axiom of “practice safe-sex every time” completely invalidates condomless anal sex as an act with any value.
For many people, and for gay men in particular, condomless sex is about pleasure and intimacy. It’s not just the penis and the prostate but it’s also about the semen. To experience that pleasure and to share that moment of intimacy is something that has great meaning to gay men. To tell teenage gay men that it’s “nonnegotiable” only reinforces the stigma around sex without condoms and that is counterproductive to promoting sexual health.
The topic of condomless anal sex was a missed opportunity for Engle. For many young gay men who read Teen Vogue, learning about the basics of anal was also a chance to inform them of the diversity of HIV-prevention options out there.
PrEP is a daily HIV-prevention pill that is highly effective, even when condoms aren’t used. Also, if a person is HIV-positive and undetectable, it is virtually impossible to transmit the virus. Thus, there are ways to engage in condomless anal sex and not risk HIV infection. Even the CDC no longer uses the term “unprotected” but instead opts for “condomless” sex because they understand that a variety of prevention options exist.
Sure, sexually transmitted infections exist and are a risk. Understanding the risks empowers consenting adults to communicate their desires and choose if they’re willing to accept the associated risks. Just like sometimes there is poop with anal sex, sometimes we get syphilis. It happens. Not because people are bad or wrong but because we are human beings pursuing a sexuality that involves pleasure and intimacy.
We agree, “There is no wrong way to experience sexuality and no way is better that any other.” Condomless anal sex is not wrong or any worse that other experiences of sexuality. Let’s celebrate young gay men’s sexualities while empowering them with information and respecting their ability to determine for themselves how they will pursue intimacy and pleasure.
Featured image by Raphli via iStock