My sex life is nothing to brag about. Although I do have some good stories about a Turkish Airlines flight attendant whose name means “dolphin” and a guy who literally ran out of my house pre-hookup, my sexy times aren’t great. Like any good Midwestern boy, I pledged my virginity to God until I started dating a dude. Since then, I’ve had some short-term relationships but mostly one-time things that happen after nights out. My special friends and I don’t really end up doing too much sexually. I typically am really tired at this point in the night and gay sex requires so much preparation! Not something you can just do spur of the moment, in my opinion.
I never really thought too much about contracting something from my limited sexual encounters. I always used protection and went to school in a college town in Oklahoma. There are a fair amount of homos in Norman, but the group is quite incestuous so if you’ve slept with one person, you’ve indirectly slept with everyone. Of course, STDs and HIV exist even there, but I thought that my standards would help me avoid ever contracting one of those diseases/viruses/skin conditions. I didn’t meet up with people from Grindr, Adam4Adam, or Craigslist. That was too risky for me. So, I thought that I was, without a doubt, clean.
My sexual promiscuity peaked during my year-long study abroad in Turkey. It was nice to be in a city of 15 million people where I got more attention for being a foreigner. This was all fun until I came back to the U.S. While I was at home for the summer, I decided to get my first STD/HIV test to make sure that I hadn’t picked anything up. While I waited two weeks for my results, I convinced myself that I was dying from AIDS. I remember watching a movie where there was a funeral. I started bawling because I thought of how embarrassed my family would be burying me (after I had died from AIDS) knowing that I had contracted HIV most likely by having a mediocre one-time sexual relation with someone whose name I couldn’t remember. I didn’t want to die in general, but death by AIDS seemed to be the absolute worst scenario at the time. On the day I was to pick up my test results, I was babysitting my 11-year-old sister and decided to take her with me to the clinic. To my relief, everything came back negative. I celebrated by taking my sister to Wal-Mart and letting her pick out whatever she wanted as long as she didn’t tell my parents where I took her. She chose chicken nuggets.
After that, I pushed my fear of STDs to the back of my mind for a couple of years. I returned to Norman to finish college , dated a couple of guys, hooked up with a couple more, and didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have pus coming out of my penis. Life was ok.
After graduating, I moved to DC and thought things were going to look up for my sex life. A new study from Gallup found that 10% of DC residents identify as LGBT. I had been going through a dry spell of almost a year and wanted to get some action. Like a prepubescent girl, I still hadn’t gotten over the last guy I was seeing the summer before. My drought finally ended, but not in DC.
I went to Puerto Rico for Labor Day weekend by myself to take a break from everything and randomly booked a hostel online. Later on, I learned that all of the staff there were gay. What luck! I then kind of hooked up with the hostel manager in a back room on a nasty-ass mattress. “Live a little,” I thought.
But once I returned, paranoia set in that my tropical tryst might have been riskier than I expected. Although most of this was the result of my anxiety, I also blame the epidemic levels of HIV in the city I live in. Although this article is a little old, it shows how DC has HIV/AIDS Rates Higher Than Some African Countries
I also have met (not in the biblical sense) more people here that either live with a sexually transmitted disease or virus or have been treated for one. I’m scared that it’s inevitable that I’ll get one too.
So, I am 100% in favor of HIV/STD testing and prevention but it seemed like an omen that I started noticing a million signs for HIV testing and living with HIV all over DC. I could brush my paranoia aside for awhile but after a month, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know. With trembling hands, I went to the local community health clinic after work one day, sweating bullets. What if I was HIV positive? Could it really happen to me? While waiting, I saw all of the other gay guys checking Grindr. I don’t use that, so I should be fine, right? When my number was finally called, the nurse drawing my blood had to use a smaller needle because I was so nervous that my veins had constricted. I tested negative that time as well, so I audibly breathed a huge sigh of relief and patted myself on the back. Then the nurse told me that there is a window period of 1-3 months where HIV antibodies develop. This means that I couldn’t be sure that I was HIV-free until December. Wait…what?
As I celebrated my negative status by treating myself to (read: gorging on) frozen yogurt, I started to realize that for two more months, I would be living in sexual purgatory. I would sit at work and look up all of the symptoms of HIV: flu-like sickness, rash on the chest or back, night sweats, mouth sores, weight loss. Then I would go home and convince myself that I had these symptoms. So, I would get tested again. And again. Over the last four months, I have been tested for HIV EIGHT times. I went to two clinics twice, bought two home testing kits from CVS (took one in the bathroom at work), and got tested by my doctor twice. I was a mess to say the least.
And the condoms! Everyone wanted to give me condoms. One lady gave me a bag with 62 condoms and 28 packets of lube. Really? I doubt that I’ll have sex 62 more times before I die at the rate I’m going.
Here are some photos to guide you through this terrifying time of my life:
What am I supposed to do with all these condoms???
All praise be to Jesus, all 8 tests came back negative for HIV and I’m well outside of the three month window period. I can now return to my normal DC sex life of not having sex because no one is interested and because it scares the shit out of me.
But in all seriousness, HIV and STDs are scary things that I do not wish to ever have to deal with, either physically or emotionally. I’m pretty sure that I’ve traumatized myself just by thinking that I have something, so I cannot imagine what it would be like for that to be a reality. But for a substantial amount of people, it is. This little scare episode led me to learn a lot about these health conditions as well as to accept that an STD or HIV is not the end of the world. HIV affects men seeking men disproportionately more than heterosexual men and women, so it is a real concern, especially in a large, gay-friendly city like Washington, DC. But, along with all of these statistics that I can now spout out in my sleep, I’ve learned that tolerance is just as necessary as education. Before all of this, I had assumed that all HIV-positive people slept around and were dirty. If I were positive, people would probably start to think the same about me. But this isn’t true and it isn’t necessary. People are people are people. Some are black; some are white; some are purple. Some are HIV-positive and that’s ok. Not ideal, but ok.
Another big lesson I took away from this is that it’s alright to be picky about who you have sexy times with. I always thought that I had been, but there are nights when I definitely lowered the bar and went home with some questionable characters. And no matter how desperate I was for a some sexual healing, I now know that a one-time hook-up can have some serious consequences. So, be safe. If you need a condom, I’ve got 62 that are up for grabs.