This article by Daniel Warner first appeared in FS Magazine, a publication of GMFA, here.
I didn’t really think I had an opinion on HIV. I realise this may sound ignorant or misguided but I grew up in the late 1980's and early 1990's so my teenage years were not a time that really allowed me to discover my sexuality.
My abiding memory of that time and my attitude towards sex was one of fear. HIV/AIDS was portrayed as the disease to end all humanity. Tombstones and icebergs were used in Government sponsored TV advertisements to get the message across – “if you became infected with HIV, this would rapidly lead to AIDS and then you'd die.” And I thought I wouldn't have anything to say about HIV?
The 'gay curse,' as it was known, was something to fear. There wasn't anything remotely sexy about 'barebacking’ - it had yet to be fetishized. Not only was it dangerous, it seemed outdated, old fashioned and best left in the backrooms of San Francisco or New York. Condoms were the most fashionable thing to wear and 80's icons like Madonna and George Michael encouraged us to use them whilst other icons of film, music and television kept their HIV diagnosis quiet until they succumbed to AIDS. Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury & Kenny Everett all died their deaths in a blaze of press-led hysteria and public ignorance. It was a confusing time for someone to embrace their sexuality and go out and have fun.
Many people kept their sexuality secret because of the fear of AIDS. If you were gay, then you were a prime candidate and a 'dead' cert to contract it. What we now call 'risky' behaviour wasn’t even considered to be a risk. You were warned that the very first time you had unsafe sex you would become infected with HIV.
It took me many years to realise there were labels such as top, bottom or versatile. Up until then I'd worn my own personal labels, a combination of cocktease and frigid.
My fear of HIV had forced me into a kind of sexual schizophrenia. The way I looked and presented myself and the way I was feeling were completely different. In my 20s, I left a vast number of men with huge erections. I'm not talking up my attractiveness, I'm just saying that although I looked and behaved like someone who was going to go all the way, by the time we got into the bedroom and it came down to business, I couldn't go through with it. Every erection became a tombstone and every white pillow on an unmade bed became an iceberg, and too many icebergs can make a boy frigid.
I'm 42 now and my attitude towards sex has changed and I'm confident in my sexuality. I now know how to behave as cheap as I look, so I'm no longer leaving men with useless erections. I'm also fully aware of the 'risks', and they are risks. I’ve realised that a penis isn’t a murder weapon. I don't know if in 2013 HIV is looked upon as something to fear or if gay culture and medication have led to a 'feel the fear and do it anyway' mindset?
What I do know is that we all have choices, more choices than we did back in the 1980's and 1990's. I don't take my being HIV-negative for granted but I also don’t allow a fear of HIV to stop me doing what I want to do. I'm not terrified of HIV or AIDS anymore because the tombstones and icebergs have now left the bedroom.
About the author: Daniel Warner is a writer and journalist and regularly writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow him on Twitter @picnicdontpanic or find out how to contact him by logging on to his website.