By Vish | @vishdelishuk

These last few weeks’, the tabloids have been buzzing about a certain high profile celebrity who is HIV-positive. And, by god, the reporting around it was messy. Before the story broke, gossip laced with accusations and hostile finger pointing made the rounds. A common theme on Twitter was along the lines of “well what do you expect, if you sleep around, you catch shit”.

This judgemental tone freaked me out and proved HIV stigma, particularly in the context of sex, remains truly alive. 

There are degrees of stigma attached to other STIs too, be it syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhoea. I can’t help but feel there’s a common theme to this stigma and it involves sex shaming. So what is sex shaming? Well it’s usually when uptight people point out if someone is having too much sex, with too many people and then make them feel shit about it. This juvenile and archaic thinking needs to end. If someone likes sex, it doesn’t mean they deserve to catch an STI; rather they deserve to be educated about the risks and supported.

I’ve been guilty in the past of sex shaming. However, I used to do it more passively. I’d quietly judge in my mind about how a friend’s sexual activity was toxic and then slyly pat myself on the back for knowing better. Meh. I haven’t time for all that now. I’ve realised my judgemental attitude wasn’t progressive or helpful. I was making gay sex into something dirty, not just for others but more worryingly for myself.

This leads me on to my relationship with gay sex. The truth is I haven’t got one, because I’m still a big ol’ virgin. I know this reads a tad tragic, but I’m not looking for a pity party. Instead, I’d rather lay bare the circumstances that got me to this position and figure out what I need to change.

My de-sexualised nature probably stems from my conservative Indian background where sexuality and relationships were seldom discussed. I was overly protected from these things. As a child, whenever moments of intimacy (especially involving gay people) popped up on TV, the channel would change swiftly with breathy tones of parental disgust. These subtle family dynamics led me to conclude that sexual activity was restricted to within marriage and among heterosexuals. This was an unhealthy environment to be in and my developing sexual confidence took some hits.

Once I moved to London to study, I finally got to experience a gay scene. I was initially struck by how sexualised it was. A hook-up, a dark room or a sauna experience was (and remains) easily accessible to many. I couldn’t really fit in with all this sexualisation. My social conditioning was so deeply rooted in my psyche that it just wouldn’t lead me down these paths of experimentation. But that’s OK. It simply wasn’t for me.

I would also unhealthily get overly clued up on the STI rates for gay men. Let’s just say my chastity belt sprouted another lock. My paranoia quadrupled and the thought of catching an STI scared the fuck out of me. I have an embarrassing story where a few years ago I was covered in an itchy rash. Possessing a Daily Mail reader state of panic, I rushed to a GUM clinic with worries of having HIV. In fact, I just had hives. I was reassured by the nurse that sexually inactive people couldn’t contract any kind of STI. I left the clinic feeling stupid and shamefully ignorant.

Since this incident, I’ve learnt to relax more. The knowledge of sexual risks is important, but it’s also important  that they don’t spike one’s potential sex life with fear. I now understand this is where I’ve been going wrong.

At the moment, I’m continuing to break down my own stigma that I’ve attached to gay sex. It’s clear that my judgemental and cautious ways relating to sexual health have kept me virginal. But I have faith that things will change. Perhaps this time next year I’ll be humming another tune, where my virginity would be a distant memory and the word shame won’t even come into the picture. 

HIV-positive men read out mean messages

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