If you’re sexually active and cruise online for play, you’ve no doubt run across acronyms like PNP (for “party and play”), BB (for “bareback sex”), D/DF (for “drug and disease free”), UB2 (for “you be too,” usually in reference to being D/DF) and the term “clean,” which is most often used to denote not having HIV.
If we as a leather and kink community live by the credo of trust, honor and respect, then how we use words like these and how they function as part our cruising rituals ought to give us pause and provoke discussion. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately, so I’d like to talk about them this week. I’m not here to judge anyone’s sexual practices, but I do want us to consider how what we eroticize (and what we don’t!) can affect ourselves, our brothers and our community.
The more I chat online with younger gay men, the more I’ve noticed two trends that I find disturbing: (1) the increasing intermingling of sex with drugs, especially in kinky sex play, combined with a decreasing concern about one’s HIV status; and (2) a sort of opposite, phobic concern about HIV and a demonization of people who are positive.
While I believe that our sex lives and kinks are personal matters and that adults should have the right to make their own decisions about how they play, I also believe that we have a duty to protect each other from harm. While I don’t pass judgment on people who choose to get high during play, I also think it’s important to keep in mind that not all of your partners may be as experienced with or educated about drug use as you are, and that different drugs can have vastly different effects on people. Because of that, I personally choose not to PNP.
I engage in a lot of BDSM play and do so without drugs because I feel it’s important to remain present and alert for those who offer themselves to me as bottoms. I’ve also had a number of close friends who party get seriously injured because they were totally unaware of how aggressive their play had become. Heavy buttplay is especially dangerous if you’re partying because it is all too easy to puncture the colon. The results are always serious and often fatal. If you need to be high before you are able to play in certain ways, then you should not be engaging in those activities. If you do choose to party, be educated, know your limits and take great care with your partners.
The next topic that I’d like to discuss is barebacking. Again, while I support the right of adults to make their own informed choices about their sexual practices, I also believe that we have a responsibility to help our HIV negative brothers stay that way. The preponderance of bareback hook-up sites and porn films do make it seem, especially to younger gay men, like fucking without condoms is the norm and that it has little, if any, real consequences. Many guys believe that “HIV is over” or that only older men have it and that they can avoid it as long as they only have sex with partners who are “clean.”
What disturbs me most is the growing number of negative men who are seeking hook-ups on barebacking sites. Partly this is due to a belief that if they sero-select (only have bareback sex with other negative guys) they won’t get HIV. While this behavior works great as an AIDS prevention strategy when poz guys do it, it’s not a particularly smart one for negative men. First of all, it requires you and your partner to be celibate for months, get tested regularly and be absolutely certain of your status. It also assumes that you’re both being rock-solid honest about your behavior and your pasts. Neither of these conditions are likely to be found among horny guys who are looking for a quick online hookup.
Sadly, even in a community like our very own Palm Springs, being HIV positive still carries a serious social stigma. Telling other positive guys about your status isn’t necessarily so hard, but telling negative ones can be intimidating and uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to have a conversation about your status and your sex life with all of your partners before you play. It’s the only way that you both can make informed choices that will help diminish the spread of HIV. You can’t assume anything about your partner’s status just because they don’t talk about it. Communication is the key, and protecting each other should come before getting our rocks off!
Now it’s time for me to get on my soapbox (as if I weren’t already!). I believe that terms like D/DF and “clean” have no place in our cruising vocabulary. Simply put, they are nothing but offensive, demeaning and hurtful. First of all, D/DF assumes that all people who are positive are also drug addicts, an insulting and untrue proposition that does nothing more than perpetuate the stereotype that positive people are inherently defective or somehow “less than” people who are not positive. The word “clean” does exactly the same thing by insinuating that people with HIV are somehow “dirty.” There are far more tactful ways to tell people that you prefer to play with people who don’t use drugs or that you engage in sero-sorting (and then saying “UB2”). Although to tell the truth, I’m not so sure that there is any polite way to say that you prefer to discriminate against HIV positive people.
I believe that part of being a Leatherman is holding ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. But even if that’s not how you identify, all of us ought to be kinder and gentler, communicate more and be committed to doing no harm. If you’re going to party, do it responsibly. If you’re going to have bareback sex, talk to your partners before you fuck them. And finally, if you’re HIV positive, you owe it to your partner to tell them before you engage in unprotected sex. In fact, in most states it’s the law. So step up, and don’t wait for the other person to start the conversation. It actually feels good to take charge and be a leader!
Until next time, Play Hard!
Every other week Gear's John McBain, publishes his Generation Fetish column in Pulp Magazine. This article originally appeared on July 8, 2011.