Kumar Shetty has spent a good part of his career closely engaging with the community of sex workers, LGBTQI+ and Men who have sex with men (MSM).
Let’s look at the five most basic, but extremely crucial, things to keep in mind when talking about sex, safety and pleasure.
The stranger, the better?
Casual sex and having anonymous partners is risky but common sexual behaviour. I have interacted with many people, who prefer to engage in spontaneous sex with a stranger, since it makes the experience less discriminative. Therefore, it is understandable why some of us might not be comfortable with the idea of revealing our health issues/HIV status etc.
Most of our community faces direct discrimination and exclusion from the overall health ecosystem. So, why should we voluntarily add another layer of exclusion because of personal health issues when one has found a fun partner? Since all that shines is not gold and all that seems well from the outside may not be well inside.
If you acquire partners online or engage in spontaneous sex with a stranger, you may be at a higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV. In a situation like this, the individuals involved in a sexual act must be aware of each other’s HIV/STI status— protected sex (using a condom) and hygienic sexual habits (like washing genitals after sex) should be your priority in all scenarios.
Are you HIV+ve?
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that MSM are at higher risk of contracting STIs (viral and bacterial), including HIV infection. You must get yourself tested for sexually transmitted infections at least once in a year or more often as necessitated by the level of risk.
Apart from sporadic STI/HIV screening, which all non-monogamous sexually active individuals should undergo, other medical conditions may be more contractable in MSM and demand higher clinical attention. Knowing your HIV status can, by large, reduce the levels of sexual anxiety and motivate you to approach safer sexual behaviours.
Is your partner HIV+ve?
Now it is not the most comfortable communication to initiate, especially considering that certain individuals may not want to reveal their HIV status or may even believe that they are HIV-ve without getting tested. However, since HIV and STI transmissions do not occur in a vacuum, partners (both male and female partners, including wives) should get tested and screened for HIV and STIs.
MSM, especially, are more vulnerable to engaging in sex with partners whose HIV/STI status may not be known. Even in situational triggers like casual sex and one-night stands— a one-minute conversation determining your partner’s status can make a lot of difference in ensuring safety and pleasure. Getting on PrEP is effective when you don’t have HIV but are at risk of getting infected by a partner.
Are you PrEPared?
If you know about HIV, there’s a good chance that you are also aware of PrEP or Pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a preventive drug meant for people at risk for HIV. Since MSM are at a very high risk of contracting HIV due to factors like multiple or anonymous sex partners, spontaneous sexual encounters and other sexual vulnerabilities, PrEP’s effectiveness against the virus along with consistent condom use makes it the safest choice.
You can learn more about PrEP through your doctor and follow a prescribed regimen ensuring that you and your partner (where either of you could be HIV+ve) are adaptive to safe sexual habits is a way to claim your right to pleasure!
If you haven’t already accommodated yourself to the idea that the above approaches hinted at— it is communication that is key. Belonging to a high-risk group can be detrimental to one’s mental health when you know your options are limited and access is bleak.
However, does that mean you shouldn’t be exercising your right to pleasure? Absolutely not! While the risk will persist, communicating with your partners about safe sex, sexual habits and HIV/STI status will make the process far more lightweight for you. Taking steps towards reducing psychological barriers to safety factors is a key to a happier sex life— MSM or not.
Aastha Parivaar is a federation of sex workers that educates people from various background, genders and ages on safe sex practices. Love Matters India and Aastha Parivaar join hands to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in December, which is also HIV/AIDS Awareness Month. Aastha Parivaar and Love Matters are committed to promoting safe sex practices.