I’m fast approaching the four-month anniversary of “My Life on PrEP,” a milestone that I imagine equal parts of you are either thrilled or disgusted to see pass. You've made your views about me and my ideas plain, which I have honestly appreciated. One of the wonders of the internet is that guys who would never dare to do so in public don’t hesitate to leave a comment calling me a whore online.
I think that’s great. It exposes the dirty underbelly that we often brush aside because of politeness or political correctness. Go ahead, call me a whore. It gives me fodder for more columns like this one. Feed me.
Rather than take them personally and cry in a corner about how mean some of y’all can be, I think there is much insight to be gained from these accusations and slanderous, mean-spirited comments. While this verbiage came in a variety of ugly packages, perhaps the most common came in the form of questioning my tendency to fuck without condoms. This column isn't exactly about condoms, or sex without it, per se. I chose to sidestep those debates because gay men spent the past decade or so beating the shit out of each other as if in some kind of perpetual, “Whack-a-Ho” game. What more could be possibly said? How much more anger, shame and frustration could be wasted rehashing such a tired, ridiculous debate?
With that in mind, I began my first column not with a manifesto about the “right” or “natural” way to have sex. I don’t believe any of that hogcock. From where I sit, unless you’re a gay-bashing evangelical, it’s probably not a good idea to put “natural” and “sex” in the same sentence. Instead of making some artificial over-generalization, I began my first column with something I knew readers couldn't argue with: my experience. Those first few words of my first column were, in a sense, strategic: “Over the past three years, I've noticed something about my sex life. For a host of reasons that this column will be exploring, I’d all but stopped using condoms.”
It was my truth. I don’t have to defend that—to you, my lovely reader, or to anybody else for that matter.
Lest anyone think otherwise, my position is clear: If you use condoms regularly, please by all means do not interpret me as judging you or suggesting that the sex that I have is somehow better. I’m sure you have great sex. I hope you have mind-blowing sex. Good for you! Seriously.
I believe that taking precautions against infection is a form of responsibility—not just for yourself, but for your partners and your community. Given recent predictions that over half of gay men will contract HIV by the time they’re 55 (not to mention, over three-quarters of black gay men), every effort to curtail the spread of this virus is a way of caring for your gay/bi/queer brothers.
Guys who herald condom use as the only acceptable prevention strategy often imply that they have the moral upper hand because they’re the real “responsible” ones in the room. But why would this be true? Wouldn't taking a pill that reduced your risk of infection also imply that you, too, cared about yourself, your partners and your community? And that you, too, wanted to do your part to prevent HIV?
This point is not unrelated to last week’s—given the numerous strategies gay men have devised to reduce the risk of transmission, we've got to abandon the notion that anything other than sex with condoms is “unprotected.” Similarly, we've got to give up the notion that anything other than sex with condoms is “irresponsible.”
Beyond condoms, critics have charged that PrEP users are irresponsible for “stealing” resources that they do not deserve. I don’t usually point out specific comments, but this one has stuck with me since it was posted last December:
My work puts me in contact with the reality of HIV/AIDS in Africa, where countries are struggling to pay for ARV treatment to keep people alive. Thousands still die because they can't afford the meds (many can't afford condoms, either, or are women who have no power to demand that their partner use them). Most of these people won't make $1,400—let alone $14,000—in a year of backbreaking labor.
Some 30 million men, women and children have died since the beginning of this pandemic. What an insult to their memory this whole fatuous conversation is. To demand that our healthcare system spend ungodly amounts of money so educated people can *choose* not to use condoms because of their "need" for sexual self-expression would boggle the minds of most inhabitants of this planet.
According to DW, I’m not just an irresponsible barebacker—I’m a thief. And I’m not just stealing from the American health care system, no. I’m stealing right from the hands of an impoverished African woman in order to feed my perverse desire for bareback sex.
Man, that’s pretty low. Who is this Jake Sobo guy?
This argument wasn't unfamiliar to me. Plenty of screeching criticisms of PrEP have come out alleging that it’s going to pilfer the pillboxes of HIV-positive people around the world. This kind of “zero-sum game” talk makes it sound like the number of resources dedicated to HIV are finite and that my prescription paid for by my health insurance company is directly linked to the future denial of care for some poor, destitute HIV-positive person out there. In my mind, I hear the voice of SNL’s Arianna Huffington, “You want other people to pay for your reckless sexual choices? Can you be serious, Jake?”
If this whole conversation sounds familiar to you, it should. It’s exactly the same kind of slut-shaming patented by Rush Limbaugh when he called Sandra Fluke a prostitute. His logic was precisely the same: Why should everyone (e.g., men) have to pay for women to have sex? In effect, Sandra was asking to get paid for sex! She was a slut.
The same logic is now being used to denigrate PrEP users and stonewall its implementation. Let’s set the record straight: PrEP is a way for you to take responsibility for your health—and for your community’s health. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
As always, please feed me! Leave a comment or send a note to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.