"Every so often I meet a guy who tells me he just won't use a condom because (take your pick): 1) he can't stay hard; 2) he's too big; 3) he's allergic to latex; 4) he's HIV-negative; or 5) it's a mood killer. How do you suggest I handle these situations -- especially when I'm really turned on?"
Let me start today by noting that it's World AIDS Day, which is held on Dec. 1 each year and -- as the official site in the U.K. proclaims -- "is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died."
That being said, there's no better way to observe this day than to pledge to protect yourself and your prospective partners from HIV. And if there's any tool we have to prevent the continued spread of the virus, it's the much-maligned, low-tech (but lifesaving) condom.
I know you've heard this before (I certainly hope that you have), but latex and plastic rubbers, when used properly (and yes, that's key) with a water-based lubricant, provide a high degree of protection to each partner. But sometimes information alone doesn't do the trick. If only. Instead of going to the experts (as Mr. Manners often does), I decided to ask a friend of mine who recently became infected why his knowledge of safer sex didn't safeguard him:
"You can be armed with all the information in the world, but it's much harder to put it into practice when you combine casual sex, alcohol and drugs -- and put places like Fire Island into the mix. My suspicion is that somewhere along the line, I wasn't sober enough to do what I needed to do to protect myself, and there were enough of those nights that the statistical odds became stacked against me."
So, how do I suggest that you respond to these periodic ploys (and that's what they are) to have unprotected sex? It would be facile for me to suggest that you just say "no." Still, you can't make sound judgments if you're stoned, high, drunk, tweaked or toasted -- and there's no question that drug and alcohol use are closely linked with new HIV infections.
For now, though, let's take each of the objections to using a condom and do a little role-playing:
He says: "I can't stay hard."
The truth: It's true that in a fair number of instances, guys may lose their erections after suiting up. But there are a number of things you can do, like trying different brands of rubbers -- especially those that might not be as tight or as thick. More often than not, though, what you're hearing (and seeing) is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on a psychological response ("I don't like to wear a condom"). To counter that, try making the unveiling and capture playfully sexy and fun. If your buddy loses his erection as soon as the glove goes on, go back to first or second base for a while to help him get (re)stimulated while gloved.
He says: "I'm too big."
The truth: Condoms come in all sizes, my friend. Unless your partner is superhuman, there's a condom for him. He doesn't go shoeless because he's a big guy, does he? He shouldn't go without a glove, either. Among the jumbo-sized options are Trojan Magnum XL Lubricated, Durex XXL, and Kimono MAXX. Keep shopping for options until you find one that satisfies.
He says: "I'm allergic to latex."
The truth: Indeed, some men are, but there are condoms made out of plastic (polyurethane) that provide protection against HIV and other STDs. Be sure to use a water-based lubricant with either latex or plastic gloves. And remember: don't use lambskin condoms, since they don't protect against HIV and other STDs.
He says: "I'm HIV-negative."
The truth: First of all, a casual sex partner may not be 100-percent honest about his status if he's eager to get you into the sack. But even an Honest John can put you at risk -- he may think he's negative, but he may be wrong (which is a one of the primary scenarios for new infections). Generally, you must wait at least three months since your last risk of exposure to HIV to be reasonably sure that you're HIV-negative. Even if your guy really is HIV-negative, remember that there are all too many other STDs to be concerned about -- condoms protect you from more than just HIV. (By the way, when's the last time you were tested? If you're sexually active, be sure to get tested on a regular basis, at least annually, if not more frequently, depending on your risk factors.)
He says: "It's a mood killer."
The truth: Possibly, but be creative! If you plan ahead, a condom can be whipped out without losing your focus -- or your state of mind. And given the choice, I'll take a "mood killer" over the alternative.
But if this were all so easy, we wouldn't have more than 40,000 new infections occurring each year here in the U.S. It's not easy at all -- especially when you're really turned on or on a high from drugs or alcohol. Again, my recently infected friend cautions: "Compared with friends who knowingly slipped up in terms of safe sex, I always thought I was a model in terms of precautions. But it only takes once. And the people you meet out and about (or online) for casual sex are all sleeping with other people where the same risk applies."
In other words, knowledge alone isn't power. Vigilance is a necessary part of the equation.
One last word:
There's a new documentary called We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco (just nominated for an Oscar) that is a must-see for anyone who lived through the darkest years of what was then called the "gay plague," and especially for those who didn't. Kudos to director/filmmaker David Weissman.
This column originally appeared on Advocate.com.
Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at www.gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.