Bill Weintraub

Like most gay men I was greatly pleased by the Supreme Court's overturn of the unjust sodomy laws, which had been used by the majority culture as a club to beat up those who were sexually different.

But as a gay man who does not participate in anal sex, I am concerned that this historic event will reinforce the mistaken idea, current among both gay and nongay people alike, that all gay men are sodomites -- that is, willing participants in anal sex.

That's not true.

Just as there are many gay men who are not promiscuous, so there are many gay men who do not do anal sex.

But you'd never know that from the information disseminated by the media, whether gay or nongay.

And this event has been no different.

In report after report, from the Washington Post to Fox TV news, journalists describing the overturn used the terms "gay sex" and "sodomy" interchangeably, as though the two were identical.

They're not, and that matters.

Because it has public policy implications in many areas, but none more important than the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The widespread perception that all gay men do anal sex and are promiscuous has been used by safer-sex educators to justify the "condom campaigns" which have dominated AIDS prevention efforts for the last 15 years.

At first glance these campaigns seem sensible -- since HIV is, after all, transmitted anally among promiscuous gay men, it appears reasonable that gay men should be given condoms to reduce risk and told to use them "every time - every time."

But in reality, studies have shown that because these campaigns have the effect of encouraging men to have promiscuous anal sex, statistically men who don't use condoms are less likely to acquire HIV than those who do.

That finding, which is counter-intuitive, makes sense if one understands that those who use condoms are more likely to have sex promiscuously, to be less choosy about their many partners, and to do anal sex, than those who don't.

Since condom failure rates are high even in vaginal sex - experts differ on the exact figure, but generally agree that condoms fail - that is, result in HIV infection - 10 to 20% of the time - and since most agree those rates are much higher for anal sex, which is far rougher on the condom, it makes sense that men who engage in a lot of anal sex, even with a condom, are more likely to acquire HIV.

What's needed now is for the media, both gay and nongay, to turn its attention to those many gay and bi men who don't have HIV because they've adopted a very successful survival strategy - they don't do anal sex, and more than a few are faithful to one partner as well.

Many in the gay and safer-sex communities are resistant to highlighting this strategy and these men because they believe that doing so will strengthen the religious right's calls for abstinence and fidelity.

While there's good reason to distrust those on the religious right who are homophobic and who insist that all sex must be procreative, for gay men to reject abstinence, fidelity, and other forms of primary behavior change, including non-anal, non-penetrative alternatives like frot (phallus-to-phallus sex), simply because some on the religious right might approve, is to throw three very healthy and potentially life-saving babies out with the bathwater.

And it perpetuates a lie - that all men who have sex with men do so anally.

Since they don't, and since publicizing that fact has the potential to greatly reduce HIV and other anally-transmitted infections, does it not make sense for the media to begin discussing those "other gays" - who though they are men who love men, aren't sodomites?

Bill Weintraub

July 3, 2003


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