Today is World AIDS Day. This day means so many things to so many people. It is a day to raise awareness, mourn those lost and to support people living with HIV and those affected by HIV and AIDS. As a sex(uality) educator, a sex worker and polyamorous person, getting tested, knowing my status and practicing safer sex have been a core practices in my life. It hasn’t always been that way though. Before I began my own sexual journey through trial and error, I didn’t have much information about sex. In my parent’s generation, their parents didn’t talk about sex. When it came to my generation, my parents figured if you don’t talk about it, it wouldn’t happen. Nothing could’ve been farther from the truth. Even though younger generations today get better information than I did or my parents did, it’s still not enough. In some cases, if sex education is even taught, it is limited. Too often, sex education focuses on procreation, heterosexual sex, and lacks conversations about desire or how to negotiate for oneself. Lets not forget the Abstinence until marriage sex education campaigns. The push for abstinence as a safety measure for all young people has been unrealistic. I do believe that teaching both abstinence and comprehensive sex education that included sex positivity is the way to go. The education we receive as young peoples is vital BUT the education does not end there. It is just the beginning. As adults and older adults, we must continue to educate ourselves as well.
Yesterday I went to an event at New York University. It was an annual event called “Living Out Loud: Queer People of Color Creating HIV Awareness.” This year’s program was two fold: a panel to continue to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS and a celebration to honor the writer/ performer, HIV positive queer activist, Brandon Lacy Campos. The panel offered wonderful information and perspective but one panelist stuck out for me. A woman living with HIV for 20 plus years stated, “I had a boyfriend, we were in a monogamous relationship and I trusted him.” These words spoke volumes to me. To begin, one of the things that I hear over and over again in HIV prevention speak is that monogamy is a one of several tools to staying negative. I do not agree with this. In my opinion, monogamy, gives a false sense of security regarding safer sex. Within monogamy we throw out any notions of negotiating sex, fluid bonding is a given and the idea that cheating doesn’t enter into the “safety” equation. Even if a monogamous couple never cheated on each other, it doesn’t take in to account the relationships they had prior or if they’ve ever gotten tested.
The lingo about monogamy, in some ways, puts a cloud over us folks who are polyamorous, have multiple partners and or are non-monogamous. It feeds into the idea that if you have more than one lover, and you “get” something, it was through your own doing. I guess the idea is that if you stick with one, and then you lessen your chances. I think it’s more complicated than that. There is an assumption here. The assumption is that if you have multiple partners you are not safe or using safer sex methods. For me, polyamory is more than just the ability to love/ be in relationship with/ have sex with and play with multiple people. It is about consent. It is about negotiating and re-negotiating my body, sex and safety. These things are never a given. These things, I’m generalizing here, get lost in monogamy. I’d say that I’m the “safest” I’ve ever been as a poly person than I ever was as monogamous. This is more about the false ideas monogamy promises. Commit yourself to one person and you will be safe. Throughout my life I’ve committed myself to multiple people simultaneously and I was safe because I took measures to be so, not because a title promised it to me. I want to be clear; I am speaking on my own poly practices. Not all poly people negotiate as I do and this is my point exactly. Not all monogamous people follow the “laws” of monogamy and so we are all as susceptible to contracting HIV or any STI, as any people in any relationship configuration. From an early age we learn what monogamy is supposed to be. That idea is beautiful but not a reality for some. Monogamy as well as polyamory should not be treated as a cookie cutter model. We negotiate these relationships knowing anything could change at any time. We trust ourselves and not an idea. I believe you can promote “safety”/ prevention methods and sex positive language around different kinds of relationships. The key here is communication, constant negotiation, regular testing and safety as people define it for themselves. HIV prevention messages CAN be sex positive. Don’t you think?