Friday, September 10, 2010

Brody's Scribbles... Hard Choices, Real Consequences

By Joseph Couture (London, Ontario) SEPT 10 | It is hard to image how difficult it must be for an individual to live with HIV. The very real threats of deteriorating health, the social stigma and risk of rejection from family and friends would hang like a cloud over your life. It must be awful.
In Canada where I live an individual is legally required to inform their sexual partners of their status before engaging in any sexual activity that might subject the other party to risk of infection.
This country has taken an aggressive position on prosecuting those who fail to disclose. In the very public debate that is currently unfolding, many leading AIDS educators and gay activists have condemned this approach saying that it is wrong to criminalize the spread of a disease.  Perhaps using the crude, blunt instrument of the law is unwise, but the fact of the matter is there must be individual responsibility somewhere in this process.
I wrote a book about sex and how gay men go about getting sex; from that process I learned the truth of the situation. The fact is that the vast majority of gay men who are HIV positive do not inform their sexual partners before they have sex with them.
To be fair, many men don’t ask first.  They may make assumptions or take risks for whatever reasons.  I guess if you don’t ask, maybe you have to take responsibility for that choice. Likewise, there are lots of people who are positive who do disclose that information when it is appropriate.  Good for them.  They are the model of good judgement and good character.  But not everyone makes the same choices.
I recently I asked an acquaintance of mine who is positive how he handles sex with men he doesn’t know.  “I say nothing,” he told me. “I’m there to have sex, not put my life on display.”
I asked him what he does when people ask. “They usually say something like, ‘Are you clean?’ And I say yes, I had a shower this morning.”  I must have looked a bit stunned because he followed up by saying, “If I told the truth they wouldn’t have sex with me.”
I have to admit I was disappointed with him.  Maybe he wouldn’t get sex if he told the truth, but telling the truth is still the right thing to do.  The other person has a right to make an informed decision and without the truth their consent is not valid in my view.
I do not wish to subject HIV positive people to any more hardship than they already must endure, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a responsibility to others.  So too, the activists have a responsibility to communicate that this is not an option.  It is something that must be done, whether or not it is difficult.
What is hurting us all in this very public debate about responsibility is the fact that so few people are willing to take responsibility.  In this process I can only appeal to the best in people.
That means we must take care of our own.  We must take care of those who are sick, and we must protect those who are not.  Passing the buck and avoiding responsibility does not build communities, it destroys them.
Joseph Couture is a Canadian based Author and Freelance Journalist. Joseph's blogsite can be found here: [ Link ]


Trab said...

Not asking if someone you are thinking of having sex with is HIV positive certainly puts the responsibility on you, pretty much as pregnancy is your responsibility if you don't make sure the lady has taken her pill. Yes, it is up to both of you, but don't ask, don't tell is just as bad here as in the military, just a lot more potentially lethal.