‘To the Guys I’ve Shamed for Using Condoms, I’m Sorry’
Two and a half years ago, I called my boyfriend from Los Angeles and told him I was thinking about marriage. Thankfully, I never had a chance to propose — he called me the next day: “Alex, I want to break up.”
My would-be proposal was an attempt to keep him after I had damaged our relationship. And he did the right thing, because I had shamed him. It was a grumble, a complaint every time we had sex, whenever he pulled out a condom. I’m HIV-positive, he was HIV-negative, and he insisted on using them.
“In hindsight, I don’t know if it was a good idea to date someone HIV-negative, but hey, I’m glad I did,” I told him once. And, “If we ever break up, I’m only dating other poz guys.”
These were cruel jabs at his confidence, and after two years he had enough. I saw myself as an enlightened, sex-positive crusader in a new age — a time when HIV meds made poz people undetectable and therefore unable to transmit the virus. PrEP, the daily pill preventing HIV transmission for negative people, had only recently become available. Suddenly, HIV-negative guys were less afraid of me. My boyfriend’s insistence on condoms started to feel antiquated and fearful.
We’d first met when I was new to HIV. At the time I was not undetectable, so I accepted his rule with no questions asked. At the time, condoms weren’t just acceptable — they were mandatory.
Things changed. I got on meds. I became undetectable. I wanted more sex, different sex. That’s when the complaints started. He was here on a student visa and could not access PrEP. Condoms kept him safe from HIV and other STIs.
He was well-informed about HIV and knew what “undetectable” meant. He never feared my status. He accepted me as I was, though I never returned the kindness. Instead I made him feel inadequate, like he would never be enough.
Looking back at much of my writing, I’ve shamed others similarly — readers who prefer condoms. Whenever I write about HIV, I’m quick to say something like, “I no longer use condoms, but if you choose to do so….” There’s judgment in that. Many bareback guys like me do that when we talk about condoms and those who use them. We need to stop.
We do this because so many people still judge and shame us for what we enjoy. Since the advent of PrEP and its approval by the FDA and CDC, that shaming has become an attempt to discredit this life-saving drug. PrEP is simply another safe sex tool in our arsenal. How is that bad?
We are also armed with slogans like Undetectable = Untransmittable — shorthand for the fact that HIV-positive people with an undetectable viral load are unable to transmit the virus.
Thanks to massive breakthroughs, we’re finally able to reclaim our sex lives. In doing so, some of us have shamed our brothers who feel safer with condoms, and that’s not OK.
After losing my ex, I never want condoms to cost me a connection. Fellow barebackers, find a condom you can tolerate, and keep a box handy. Someday there will be a guy in your bed, and he’ll be amazing. He’ll be sexy and ready for an awesome marathon session — with one rule. Your sex-positivity and fearlessness isn’t stripped by putting on a condom. You do it for him, because he’s worth keeping.