December 01, 2011

Intimacy In A Time Of AIDS

Some time ago, on the Saint Lucian radio talk show called What Makes Me Mad the host, Andre Paul led a discussion about his grievances with an AIDS awareness ad that advocated condom use if you believed your partner might place you at risk. The question he sent out over the airwaves was, “Would you continue to have sex with your wife if you knew she was HIV positive?”

The flurry of responses ranged from many disgusted “Absolutely not! I will get an instant divorce!” to a scant number of more tolerant “Yes, I will have sex but only with a condom”.

After the heated debate over the safety of having sex with a person with AIDS went on for a good thirty minutes, it became quite obvious to me that when it came to sex, the callers had a very one track mind when it came to sexual intimacy. The only thing on their minds was vaginal penetration and nothing more. This lack of imagination saddened me, especially when there are hundreds of safe and loving things a couple, even a couple where one person might be HIV positive, can do to share intimacy and pleasure. And so, it led me to ask, “Could our lack of imagination when it comes to sex be one of the many reasons why AIDS is spreading so rapidly in this region?”

Maybe if we were focusing more on the quality of our sexual experiences instead of the quantity of times we “get a juk” (especially the men), it would be easier to implement safer sex into our sexual routines. Could it be that true lovemaking and a fulfilling intimate sex life between couples is one of the answers to the AIDS epidemic?

Are Afro-Caribbean men unskilled and unimaginative when it comes to sexual intimacy beyond the athletics of jukking?

In the 1990’s several Sex survey studies at the UWI Gender Affairs St. Augustine indicated that Caribbean men are seriously lacking in sexual sophistication as they do not particularly enjoy the act of reciprocating orally. They also did not understand the importance of foreplay or that basically is it just the outer third (about three inches deep), of the vagina that gives a woman the most pleasure (so the obsession with size is unnecessary). The sex study dubbed the typical Caribbean male’s approach to sex “The wham bam” technique.

The study also went on to show that Caribbean women are also very much to blame for their lack of pleasure. They simply are not communicative enough and dishonestly fake orgasms. In fact, a lot of women are guilty of simply being mere outlets, present but yet not present during the act. How sad, especially when you consider that women are the superior sex when it comes to sexual pleasure.

We have a body part designed for nothing else but pleasure. Unlike, the penis, a woman’s clitoris does not serve any double function; its only purpose is to send us crazy with ecstasy. It has over two times the pleasure nerve endings of the male organ. As if that wasn’t enough, we were blessed again, with an internal G spot and are capable of having multiple orgasms. But how many of us are living up to our true pleasure potential? How many men are taking the time and care to truly make love to their women with care and comprehension of their needs? And are we women communicative with our partners? What do these questions have to do with AIDS prevention?

Designed with an organ only for pleaure with twice the nerve endings, twice the orgasm duration and the ability to have multiple and extended orgasms. You would think more women would be actively involved in speaking up about their sexual fulfillment but many are still not doing it.

The fact is safer sex goes hand in hand with good sex.

That goes for all sexual couplings but particularly the heterosexual and the MSM (men who have sex with men) community as lesbians remain one of the least infected groups when it comes to HIV (but not necessarily other STDs). Then again, women love to share their feelings, especially with each other and they do not wield the potentially dangerous, intrusive sexual organ called the penis, at least not the organic kind that is full of micro-organisms.

This organ can be a lethal weapon when wielded by an insecure, ignorant, impulsive selfish, guilt-ridden, self-loathing, unbalanced, compulsive man, gay or straight.

Within the gay male community, HIV is on the rise and there continues to be a problem of men simply not getting tested, not caring if they have it, not caring who they infect if they have it and worst of all, not even caring if they get it.


I used to think it was a “gay” problem caused by self-loathing particularly in homophobic societies like the Caribbean. Gay men are subjected to so many hateful and shame inducing indoctrination about their sexuality-“You will never find love!”, “You will troll the streets for strangers to satisfy your evil lust!”, “You will live a superficial life that revolves around vanity, materialism and hedonism until you can no longer afford it or grow old and ugly and get kicked out of the club”, “You will abuse drugs to numb your shame!”, “You will get AIDS and DIE!”

Many gay men unwittingly self-fulfill the prophesies levied against them because there is little else opposing those messages with love, self-acceptance, inclusion, family-life, unconditional love, real relationships, real intimacy and a healthy way to express joy, sexuality, individuality.

But I am beginning to doubt whether that is the only factor. For even in developed nations with liberal social attitudes, support systems, mainstream pop cultural acceptance and legislation that protects the equal rights of homosexuals, HIV continues to plague the gay male population. This makes me wonder if the problem is actually a MALE thing. Could it be that the same poor male attitudes towards sex, intimacy and respect for self and other that are making straight men infect their women with impunity are also present among gay men? Then further compounded by societal discrimination and criminalization that keeps sexual activity closeted and HIV status untested?

Could the risk-taking, careless, predatory approach to sex by men (both gay and straight) be rooted in something more primal?

While doing a “Prostate Cancer Awareness” campaign for the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre in Trinidad, the chief oncologist revealed some of the male attitudes she has to deal with which include a reluctance to visit the doctor even when the signs show up, get tested and even get treated (if diagnosed). She said men have this risk-taking and defeatist attitude when it comes to their own life. But of course! Men were the gender that had to go out and face down saber tooth tigers and charging rhinoceroses. They were on the front lines, daring to hold a spear steady while multitudes charged. They learned that risk can bring immediate and long term reward. They learned to feed off adrenaline. Women on the other hand learned life is precious and the most important thing is protecting themselves and their young. We faced off with our mortality every 28 days and won. We were the ones nagging our children not to run with scissors.

Could it be that safe sex is just BORING to men? Could it be that the claims of decreased sensation is all in their mind because the thrill of skin to skin is not there, the danger (of potential pregnancy or infection) is not there?

It is clear that men, gay and straight will have to learn how to replace this thrill with something else. But that of course will require IMAGINATION and INTIMACY and here is where our problems start.

Imagination is the easiest to fix of course, especially for men. I am sure it will not take a great deal of effort for them to think up right now of 50 ways to ejaculate outside of a vagina or asshole.

Pick up a copy of the Karma Sutra, read ancient erotica, use your imagination! Our ancestors were forced to be inventive about sex in order to keep their populations under control and in harmony with their eco-systems and seasonal patterns. Children were supposed to be well-timed accordingly, thus all the various fertility festivals that still influence our annual ceremonial calendar. Learn from them!

The real problem is intimacy. The things that get in the way of it are well entrenched in our culture- ignorance, shame, macho attitudes and disempowered female attitudes (and that includes disempowered female attitudes of gay men who are “bottoms”).

We will never get couples to practice safer sex when men still treat the female anatomy as a mere outlet instead of an actively engaged lock to their key, with special hidden keys of its own. We will never get couples to practice safer sex when they aren’t even in the habit of communicating their most intimate needs and desires because they are ridden with shame about it. If a man’s approach to sex is completely self and penis-centered, do you really think he’s going to care about his partner’s needs for a slower pace, gentler touch and most of all, putting on a condom? How can a woman who does not even value herself enough to insist her partner pleasures her properly truly care about him protecting her reproductive health?

Good sex comes from a kind of intimacy that allows openness of communication, concern for each other’s pleasure and health, mutual exploration, sharing desires and fantasies and freedom to feel safe within a loving relationship. As a bonus, much of the infidelity that often results in the spread of AIDS would also decrease if both parties were deeply satisfied in their sex lives with each other.

In this day and age of the AIDS epidemic, one would expect our imagination to grow beyond just rudimentary coitus. We have stubbornly held on to their outdated hypocrisy and shame. We are not widely providing sex aids, sex counseling, couples counseling or open and honest education about sex and sexuality. Yet at the same time we continue to nourish the primal sexual drive in our music and culture.

Why is this more acceptable, easy to do, easy to emulate?

But not this?

I attended a World Aids Day rally on Brian Lara Promenade in Trinidad, in 1996 and there was a kiosk set up by a brave young activist group. Their mission: show how safer sex could be fun and practical in a real life context. One of their members, a gutsy woman at that, demonstrated on a very life like dildo, how to put on a condom orally, as well as many other very practical and pleasurable safer sex techniques. She did this fully clothed and to an adult audience only. Yet still, there was a huge moral uproar! Funny, that same uproar is missing when some soca or dub artist teaches a new sexy dance to the public, including children.

It is no coincidence that the countries with the highest HIV contractions are those that still have deep seated conservative, repressed and hypocritically religious views on sex.

Here is my very novel message for this year’s World Aids Day, ladies, be open and honest about what you would really like him to do. Men, take the time to care about more than just a quick hole in one. Slow down and really be intimate and in that quality sensual time you spend with your mate, you will discover how easy and sexy it can be to introduce safer and imaginative techniques. It’s the message AIDS awareness campaigns missed completely- TRUE, EMPATHETIC LOVE MAKING, even if it takes the form of spontaneous, urgent sex that is a little rough in all the right ways…is ALWAYS safe and fulfilling.

The 2012 Survival Kit Series will continue in the next post.