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The Many Faces Of Safe Sex

As members of Sydney’s LGBTIQ community celebrate Mardi Gras season this year, we decided to take some time to hit the streets and talk to the many faces of sexual health; asking about themselves and what safe sex means for them. Because, as ACON’s latest campaign has expressed, the ongoing conversation around safe sex has evolved into much more than simply encouraging condom use.

Here are just some of the many faces of safe sex in 2017:

RHETT

What was your first gay club experience?

My first gay club experience would have been while I still identified and presented as female (so it was a while ago!). An entirely different experience to identifying as male, that’s for sure!

How do you like to unwind on a Friday night, and what is your choice of drink?

Friday nights are usually pretty low key after a work week – I’ve normally got a bit of an adventure planned for Saturday that involves an early start, so I might catch up with a few friends but nothing too full on.

I don’t drink much at all, but if I do I tend to try out the new local craft beers or a Hendricks G&T. I’m clearly not a big party guy!

What do you find the biggest turn on for you in a guy?

Humility – being confident but not arrogant. There’s nothing hotter than a guy who is clearly comfortable with who he is, but doesn’t need to tell everyone about it.

How do you choose to stay safe, and what do you like about that strategy?

I use PrEP for peace of mind more than anything. I take a PrEP pill with breakfast each day and I’m good to go! It gives me more confidence and also is great if we get caught up in the moment.

Why is talking to others about safe sex important to you?

I think it’s important to talk about safe sex because it doesn’t just affect me as a single person – it affects my partners and the wider community as well.

Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to be part of the Ending HIV campaign?

I chose to be a part of the Ending HIV campaign because I think it’s important to have trans inclusion and visibility in general, but also within the gay community. I heard about PrEP a while back but it took me a bit of time to learn that as a gay trans man that PrEP was also available to me. I hope my involvement in the campaign helps to bring awareness to the trans community but also helps people make informed decisions around their sexual health.

SAM

What’s a funny gay bar/club experience you have had?

I don’t really have a funny gay club experience but one of my best gay club experiences was watching my first drag show at a gay club. It’s quite amazing watching people express themselves not just in terms of their sexuality but also artistically and performatively. Of course, the make-up and costume is also phenomenal.

How do you like to unwind on a Friday night, and what is your choice of drink?

I’m quite a social person, so I love catching up with friends who I haven’t seen in a while drinking a novelty cocktail; the brighter the better. That being said, I do also love spending Friday reading a good book or watching a film.

What do you find the biggest turn on for you in a guy?

I think the most important quality in someone is self-confidence. I pick up on confidence and how people carry themselves, which then informs my own interactions with that person. Being confident is different from cockiness or vanity. I don’t think it’s an active quality but rather a passive quality, a quiet self-assurance, and certainty in what you do.

How do you choose to stay safe, and what do you like about that strategy?

Generally, I like to use condoms to stay safe. I feel like condoms are a great option for me, as they are readily and easily available for everyone else. Besides from condoms, however, I also think dialogue and talking to your potential partner is a critical to staying safe.

Why is talking to others about safe sex important to you?

Talking about safe sex is so important to me because I think there still exists a stigma surrounding sex and particularly STI’s in society. I believe continuing and contributing to meaningful dialogue is the only way which this stigma can be broken down in society, ultimately helping more people stay safe during sex.

Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to be part of the Ending HIV campaign?

Aside from the aforementioned reasons, I also wanted to be involved because I feel like diversity within the LGBT community and seeing diversity represented in LGBT media is still lacking. Growing up in a religious Korean-Australian household, issues relating to sex and sexuality such as STIs and HIV were never discussed. By being involved in the Ending HIV campaign, I hope to not only contribute to a diverse representation but also encourage others who are in a similar situation to me to remember that issues relating to sex and gay health are worthy of discussion, and not a source of shame.

JEREMY

What was your first gay club experience?

When I was 19, my friends dragged a reluctant me out to Oxford St. I was nervous and uncomfortable the whole time, having never been out gay clubbing before. I didn’t go back often. After going out a few more times over a couple of years, I started to feel more comfortable and have more fun.

What’s a funny gay bar / club experience you have had?

The night I came out to my brother. He was drunk, and was determined to show me how okay he was with my sexuality – so he took me out gay clubbing and decided to get naked on the dance floor to show me how comfortable he was with “my people”.

What do you find the biggest turn on for you in a guy?
Definitely empathy and a lack of a judgemental attitude. We’re all from different walks of life and have lived different experiences; someone that can appreciate and support that always catches my eye. A cheeky smile helps too!

How do you choose to stay safe, and what do you like about that strategy?

My personal strategy is treatment as prevention; it’s brainless – I take a tablet a day, and for the rest of the time, HIV is completely out of my mind. When I’m having sex, I let my partner choose what safe sex strategy we will use; I am fine with all of them, so I always like to go with what he’s comfortable with.

Why is talking to others about safe sex important to you?

In the last few years, the definition of safe sex is changing – condoms are no longer the only effective way to prevent HIV transmission. With that change comes a need for education and advocacy to inform people having sex, and to reduce any judgements pertaining to safe sex strategies. By having an open and honest conversation about safe sex, I’d like to think I’m helping to do this.

Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to be part of the Ending HIV campaign?

I liked this campaign because it focused on multiple strategies for safe sex and reducing HIV transmission. That’s valuable; no single strategy works for everyone. Additionally, I feel there’s still some judgement around different strategies, and advocating for them helps to reduce that.

SEB & ANDY

What was your first gay club experience?

ANDY: I was 17, and touring around Australia in the cast of my first big commercial musical when I had my first experience at a gay club. Some ensembles of theatre shows can be a party crew, and this one was definitely one of those. I had just left school early, moved out of home for the first time, was finishing my exams on the road, got my first boyfriend and was trying a lot of things for the first time – as you can imagine.

We just had our opening night in the nation’s capital – Canberra! and naturally, everyone wants to celebrate – so we head to Cube… The Cube? or was it Q… I actually don’t remember a thing about my first club experience to be honest. It was probably all the anxiety over being at a club underage.

The next morning, in between frequent visits to the motel toilet, my boyfriend handed me a t-shirt to wear to rehearsals with “detox” written across the chest. Everyone at work seemed to like the shirt – and I enjoyed the attention – even though I didn’t know what “detox” meant.

SEB: I grew up in country South Australia, about 5 hours out of Adelaide and 6 hours from Melbourne, so everything I discovered initially was via the internet, There was a gay owned café in the next town (Mt Gambier) called Jonties, once a week they would have a secret meeting of LGBT people. It was in a windowless room and we entered the café via the rear, I went once, it was uncomfortable – this is what it was like in Country S.A, then when I was 14 I started travelling to Melbourne to go to MINUS18, which is an underage queer dance party, it wasn’t long before we moved from MINUS18 to THE EXCHANGE HOTEL on commercial rd in Melbourne however my first REAL club experience would have been just up the road at THE MARKET HOTEL (RIP ), I was 15, I got in on a fake id and had my first pill. I drank lots of water, lost my friends, went home with a guy who ended up stalking me for about 2 years. It was a wild night.

What do you find the biggest turn on for you in a guy?

ANDY: I get a major heart-on over kindness. It’s always that water fairy at the party; sharing his bottle of water – that really touches me. I’ve made some life-long friends over bottles of water.

SEB: Openness, creativity, bravery. A sense of humour and a willingness to explore all facets of life, Of course a bouncy butt and a hung cock can be fun things to play with, but nothing compares to sharing a sense of play with people. Knowing that through love and a willingness to create we can come together to make the world a better place.

How do you choose to stay safe, and what do you like about that strategy?

ANDY: I’m currently trialing PrEP. It’s going well… The peace of mind I get from taking it was unimaginable. I didn’t even know I had anxiety or reservations about sex until I started taking the drug. It’s also introduced a lot more confidence and freedom in the serodiscordant relationship I share with Seb. In turn, it allows more complete beingness with us both individually, and richer life experience, which gives us much more life to share collectively. There was that time I thought I was having a stroke when my fingers and toes started to tingle and go numb – but it turns out, I’m probably just in the 5% of people that get that acute, tingly side-effect from taking PrEP.

SEB: I get tested, see my doctor regularly, and I take my HIV medication daily. My pill a day keeps my HIV viral load undetectable, which means I’m not passing on HIV with or without a condom … I am in a sero-discordant relationship with Andy, and we are open, so he takes PrEP for added safety when he is being sexy with other men. When I consider safety I don’t just think about safe sex though, it’s about communication with your closest ones, having a frank open and honest discussion with Andy about the sex that we have outside our relationship encourages safety. Although at times these talks can be tough, we always can remind each other that we want the best for each other, and encourage each other to live openly and freely with an open heart.

Why is talking to others about safe sex important to you?

ANDY: I don’t even know where I’ve been – let alone somebody else! And talking about sex is a great opportunity for me, my lovers and friends to all share, learn and stay as healthy and vibey as possible. It’s all about transparency for me. Chatting about sex the same way I chat about pasta – which is very frequent and very detailed. I also invite everyone into the conversation and keep the conversation going. The conversation about sex… and the conversation about pasta. Mmmmm I love pasta. And sex.

Seriously though, if I can avoid any more of those jabs in the butt and those 10 day courses of antibiotics (that I struggle to remember to take) I totally will!

SEB: Because it reduces stigma, I can remember listening to a profound woman speak about her experience of HIV and AIDS in Africa at the 2014 Aids Conference in Melbourne, she said wherever there was fear and stigma, there was AIDS. Like Keith Harring painted SILENCE = DEATH, so I’m passionate about blowing fear and shame out of the water. We ‘aint got no time for that, life is short, sex is great and we should in enjoy it with pride, one of the benefits of living outside the construct of the nuclear family is we are free, we are free to define our relationships, and our sex, and all variants are beautiful, and that should be celebrated. In 2016 I helped develop a sexual health resource for High School students called TRANSMISSION, which is available as a teaching aid nationally; I did this purely because we need to transcend and fear around educating teenagers about sex. Sex is going to happen anyway and shutting our eyes and minds off from one part of society doesn’t make it go away, and only makes it “unsafe”. I learned most of my tricks on the dance floor, and the community is great like that, but stigma and judgment free sexual education needs to come from the top. It’s a small gesture that legitimizes us.

STEVE

What was your first gay club experience?

It was back when I was still in high school, I was out on a fake I.D. with some girlfriends, we were at a 90’s night at a straight bar and needless to say the temptation to hop over to Smith St was too much, so I went over (all alone mind you!) to Sircuit Bar. Back in those days it was still a dive bar, with a full cruise level upstairs, I had some fun, had a beer then scurried across the road to I.Q. where I saw some friends that I had met earlier that year at Carnival. A gay time was had, and I made it back to the straight bar in time for midnight for my mum to pick me up!

What’s a funny gay bar / club experience you have had?

The time I was too impatient to go to the cloakroom, so I stripped on the dance floor down to my jockstrap and shoved my clothes down behind the stage. At the end of the night I checked the spot, and of course according to Murphy’s Law my clothes had all gone missing. I went to the cloakroom and nothing had turned up, so they gave me an oversized jacket to wear from their lost and found bin. I then walked home in a jockstrap and a jacket, at least it was a really cute jacket that I still wear.

How do you like to unwind on a Friday night, and what is your choice of drink?

I don’t always enjoy going out on a Friday night, because like Saturday night it is taken as a night that everyone should go out, so the experience doesn’t usually meet the expectations. Thursday and Sunday nights are my favourite! So on a Friday I’ll hang out with friends, go out for dinner, maybe have a kiki with mates.

My drink of choice is a pint of Carlton Draught, there I am, smashing masculine-feminine drink expectations one scull at a time.

What do you find the biggest turn on for you in a guy?

Confidence is key! We’re all self-conscious and lack confidence, but we should all learn how to take risks and get out of our comfort zone to meet other people. Some people are too afraid to be too forward so they don’t bother at all but consent and confidence are sexy and so easy, give it a go and say hey to that guy, or to me!

How do you choose to stay safe, and what do you like about that strategy?

I rely on PrEP to stay safe because I can rest assured that no matter what happens later that day, I know I’ve taken my pill in the morning and I am completely protected from HIV. I also rely on PrEP testing regime to notify me of any STIs because, being on PrEP means that I am testing like four times a year, it’s a double win! Being on PrEP keeps me engaged with my doctors at the cutting edge of sexual health and being on PrEP makes me feel empowered, in control, and safe.

Why is talking to others about safe sex important to you?

Because until you explain to someone how silly it sounds to tell a woman to put on a condom, they don’t realize how silly it sounds to tell a bottom to put on a condom, and how important PrEP is for these individuals. It’s these simple insights and examples that peers can give each other that will have more impact than any public health messaging. You can’t have massive community buy-in on any sexual health strategy unless the community creates the narrative themselves, and because we should all care greatly about staying safe, whatever it means to you, we all need to get talking and shape the narrative.

These days, the once black-and-white approaches to safe sex are as diverse as the men of our community, with condoms, PrEP and UVL each doing their own part to foster a culture of confidence, respect and fun.

You can find out more information on ACON’s latest #EndingHIV campaign here.

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