There used to be this independent book store in Salt Lake that all the hip college students, granola hippies, pot heads and other “alternative” types would frequent. In high school my buddies and I were pretty regular customers.
Back then, I thought my friends believed I had an intense interest in Indians. As soon as we walked through the Cosmic Aeroplane’s doors, I’d make a beeline for the Native American Studies section. But we all knew I was there for a different reason. Right across from the shelves housing books like “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and “The Sacred” sat titles such as “Loving Someone Gay,” “The Joy of Gay Sex,” and “Lesbian Nation.”
I really didn’t know where else to turn. When I was in high school, our sex ed component in health class literally consisted of labeling the various names of the genitalia on a hand-drawn mimeograph. There was this rough draft of a penis and one of a vagina, with lines jetting out from different parts labeling what they were. Here’s the glans! Over there’s the vulva! Come test day, we filled in the blank lines.
That was the extent of my sexual education. Well almost. As we wrapped up, our teacher – a lovely young woman maybe 10 years older than us – added this tidbit. She told us that hymens are quite easily broken. They could bust while doing mundane activities like horseback riding or strenuous aerobics. Now besides teaching health, this particular woman was also the jazz dance coach. Her statement led every guy in the room to visualize hers exploding while doing a high kick.
If that wasn’t weird enough, she gave us some advice: she told the boys, on our wedding night, if we looked “down there” and the person we married didn’t have a hymen, it didn’t mean they weren’t a virgin. Most of the guys laughed, I puked in my mouth a little.
A lack of comprehensive sex ed in general can be dangerous. Ignoring the needs of gay men in particular can be downright deadly. I think part of that stems from the very bizarre notion that somehow learning about gay sex will make someone gay. I also think there’s a certain degree of what I like to call the “ick” factor. Two guys getting it on is “gross” to people. Yeah, well, the thought of what straight people do isn’t any less nasty to gay men!
The issue with not having a real sex ed curriculum available is that it ignores a fundamental truth: society’s views about sexuality have never reflected biological reality. Preaching abstinence is great but not necessarily realistic. I mean my parents talked of abstinence but not one of their sons was a virgin on our wedding nights – not their 4 straight sons, nor me.
Look, males are programmed to have sex. For the straight male the stumbling block to 24/7 intercourse is that females aren’t wired the same way. But, when you have two dudes, both of whom are thinking about getting laid every 7 seconds, it’s a sexual triumph! Add websites like Craigslist and Manhunt, and it’s every flavor of gay sex that you can imagine, right at your fingertips.
But this convenience also means we don’t always think before we leap. And there’s a lot of nasty bugs going around. When I was coming out, AIDS was rampant. Thanks to a concerted effort to use condoms, the tide turned. But younger dudes didn’t live through the pandemic, they didn’t bear witness to once vibrant, strong men finally succumbing to some rare funky fungus after slowly withering away.
Today, HIV is deemed manageable, and thank God it’s not the death sentence it used to be. But this also means the use of condoms doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as it once was. Just take a glance at Craigslist to see how many guys are willing to go bareback. There are also a myriad of new forms of antibiotic-resistant STDs to contend with.
So we have to take matters into our own hands, which is always a fun alternative, and educate ourselves.
Here are some important steps you can take.
- First, get tested. Knowledge is power. If you’ve picked something up from someone you picked up, get treated.
- Secondly, talk openly and honestly with every single sex partner. Yeah, in the heat of the moment, “the talk” can be a buzz kill, but your life is worth it.
- Thirdly, educate yourself, and assess your risk level. Call a gay health line, they’re anonymous and there to help.
- Fourthly, always use a condom.
- Finally, forgive yourself if you mess up…and get tested.
I wish schools and others taught these matters as we grow up, but they don’t. So it’s up to you to protect yourself while you celebrate your sexuality.
Honestly, I shouldn’t be too hard on my health teacher. I mean after all, on my wedding night, when I looked down there, I didn’t see a hymen. But thanks to her, I knew it didn’t mean he wasn’t a virgin!