HIV Activists Talk Sex, HIV Stigma And Sexual Wellbeing At POZNEG

Panti, Tonie Walsh and David Stuart spoke about dealing with stigma, the 'sexual treadmill' trap gays fall into and education at Intertech Ireland's POZNEG event yesterday

The panellists sitting on colorful chairs at the Pozneg event with screens behind them

“When we respect ourselves, other people respect us back and are informed by it.” – Tonie Walsh

 

Speaking at Intertech Ireland’s POZNEG event last night were Rory O’Neill (Panti’s alter ego), GCN founder and HIV activist Tonie Walsh, and David Stuart from London’s 56 Dean Street clinic.

The panel discussion touched on: the ongoing battle around HIV stigma; sex sexual health, and sexual well-being in today’s world; and the responsibility that men who have sex with men (MSM) have when it comes to arming themselves with sexual health information.

O’Neill spoke about the ongoing stigma that faces HIV-positive people and the difficult and “awkward” scenario that arises when he has to divulge that he is HIV-positive.

“I sort of gave up on the three date rule because everyone is different and every situation is different,” he said.

“It’s become easier, that part of it anyway because more and more people do understand about treatments and everything nowadays.

I do not think of myself as somebody who’s sick or diseased or infected with anything

“But you still get people who will freak out and it’s still really awkward and weird and horrible thing. I hate having to do it.

“I sometimes say that I would prefer to come out as gay over and over again than have to do that thing over and over again. Partly because it’s awkward and embarrassing and annoying but it’s also partly because I live my life and I don’t think of myself as living with HIV. I do not think of myself as somebody who’s sick or diseased or infected with anything.”

 

Undetectable = Untransmissable

Stuart spoke about the life-altering medication that now exists for HIV and his own experience with being diagnosed and the guilt he felt when having sex with others.

Stuart revealed that his doctor didn’t explain that having an undetectable viral load significantly reduced the risk of him infecting his partners with HIV when having unprotected sex.

“I carried the guilt that maybe I was infecting other people… I wasn’t. I was uninfectious all that time and I didn’t even know what it meant.”

It is now widely recognised that if an HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load then they cannot pass on the virus to their sexual partners.

In other words, being undetectable means an HIV-positive person cannot transmit HIV to their partners, or as HIV activists are declaring in a new public information campaign: Undetectable = Untransmissable (U=U).

“What we now do is when people are diagnosed, we start them on treatment the same day,” said Stuart.

It’s safer for me to have sex with the HIV-positive person. Chances are he’s undetectable

“One of the tools that we use to end the epidemic, is that nearly all – maybe 70 to 80 per cent plus – people who are HIV positive, diagnosed and know it are uninfectious. Most people catch HIV from someone who thinks they don’t have it.”

“So if I’m choosing online online or in a bar who to go to bed with, if I choose the HIV positive person… or if there’s an HIV-positive person and an HIV-negative person and I’m choosing on the basis of the safest in regard to HIV transmission, it’s safer for me to have sex with the HIV positive person.

“Chances are he’s undetectable. Chances are the person who’s HIV-negative could have caught it in the last year, didn’t go and get tested because of stigma and is highly infectious,” Stuart said.

Gay men think ‘If I’m sexy I’ll find love. If I’m sexy everything will be ok.’ And everything in the gay culture tends to support that.

 

Sexual Treadmill

Stuart also revealed a more holistic approach to sexual health that includes sexual well-being that is part of 56 Dean Street’s programme.

“Our Dean St programme, we can’t address sexual health unless we talk about sexual well-being.

If I’m sexy, I’ll find love. If I’m sexy, everything will be ok.

“We’ve got these guys, we’re a very busy clinic – it’s kind of a sad story… It’s a sexual treadmill that people seem to get on.

“We have about 7000 gay men coming to our clinic every month and they’re all telling the same kind of story they’re of this [mindframe]: If I’m sexy, I will be popular. If I’m sexy, I’ll be on the right guest list. If I’m sexy, everything will work out on that dancefloor. If I’m sexy, I’ll pull the right guy. If I’m sexy, I won’t be bullied. If I’m sexy, I won’t be rejected online or in a nightclub. If I’m sexy, I’ll find love. If I’m sexy, everything will be ok.

“And everything in gay culture tends to support that. And what we’re seeing at Dean St is people ten years later falling off this treadmill, sometimes with an HIV diagnosis, sometimes with a drug problem”

If you’re able to receive a blowjob and enjoy it, then great, Stuart proposes, but if you’re constantly in your head about the next move, how to reciprocate or if you look sexy, then something is amiss and that’s where sexual well-being counselling can help.

 

Being Part Of A Community

O’Neill called on members of the LGBT+ community to “invest” in the LGBT+ community by being proactive about educating themselves on HIV and advances in its treatment and prevention, saying people “can do a little reading” to inform themselves.

“It’s not hard to find out this information. All this information is out there you just have to take an interest in it,” he said.

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“It’s also part of being in this community. You are a member of this community and you have to invest in it.

“And part of that is investing in what came before you, the things that are involved in being a member of this community, the things that affect this community, so don’t be a lazy prick.

“Do some reading, find out what the story is. Go to the clinic. Get yourself tested,” O’Neill advocated.

“And if you do go to the clinic to get yourself tested, all that information is sitting around you on the plastic chair [in GCN and health leaflets] while you’re waiting to give your bloody bloods, so you might as well read it! My advice is: You’re a stakeholder in this community, act like one.

“My advice is: You’re a stakeholder in this community, act like one.”

You can watch the discussion here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo6xognGDWk

© 2017 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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