Bob and I stood on the deck of his San Francisco apartment, behind the bright city lights and crawling with the first glances of summer fog. The attraction was tangible. His finger followed the contour of my nose – and then we kissed. It was our first – romantic and passionate. And more: full of uncertainty. It was 1988, early in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when about every second gay man in the city was infected with HIV. We haven’t spoken yet (“Do you know your status?”).
There was so much we didn’t know back then. A few years ago, a few surgeons rejected “accidental” modes of transmission, such as mosquito bites, toilet seats, swimming pools, and kissing. But fears persisted, especially without vaccine or treatment, and a frighteningly high mortality rate. Then came the stigma: homosexual men infected with HIV were rejected, fired from our jobs, and abandoned by our families. Intimacy passed from fear, kiss from kiss.
And now we are here again.
I never imagined I would live to witness another such viral threat. By the time I met Bob, I was young and looking for my first big love; today I am divorced and looking for a connection again. The search for love by definition means taking risks, but pandemics are a horrible time for them to take advantage of.
By the time Bob and I became friends and guys in bed, he revealed that he had HIV (and I didn’t). We engaged in what was originally called “safe” sex, but later became known as “safer” sex because nothing is absolute. However, every sexual encounter required some vigilance. I remember our anxious conversations. “How safe is oral sex?” “What if a condom breaks?” For me, the 31-year-old plague slowed my exit; this reinforced the view that homosexuality is “bad”; and this caused a storm of fear for sex and intimacy that lasted for years and, in my case, a lot of therapy.
I later learned how Bob was afraid to reveal his HIV status to me. “I told some of my female friends, and they severed all contact with me,” I remember saying when he began to cry. – It was very painful. He was also worried that the fear of getting infected would make me stop meeting him, which eventually turned out to be true and which I regretted.
“We don’t know if Covid-19 could have spread through the vagina or anus,” the New York Department of Health said in a statement.Safer Sex and Covid-19“Guidelines (although the department recognizes that other coronaviruses are not easily spread through sex). However, kissing, not sexual intercourse, is currently considered the most risky sexual activity. “Contact with saliva for kissing is a possible mode of transmission, but it is not well documented,” Dr. Infectious Diseases Specialist at the Mayo Clinic told me in an interview. William Marshall III. In the words of Dr. Marshall, I recognized my previous fear of the unknown, a poorly defined risk lurking in the shadow of intimate human relationships.
These days, many of my friends are hungry for love and intimacy. We cannot even embrace, and even more so, have fallen without risk. Not surprisingly, dating and sex are a common pandemic topic. “Even those coffee dates are not a good idea,” a female friend told me, noting that disguise and detachment “don’t do much intimacy.” A latest magazine article on sexual behavior concluded during the pandemic that “almost half of the sample reported a decrease in sex life”.
What to do? Celibacy is the safest but not the smartest choice given human nature. However, there are supporters. A 60-year-old friend told me in September, “This is the longest time I’ve lived without sex since I was about 16 years old. It’s not a laugh. ” The profile I saw on the dating app says, “You can chat / meet. “Covid-19 led me to force celibacy.”
My experience with matchmaking programs shows many who claim to be “just chatting” now with many who are still looking. I curiously asked one colleague how he chose “safe” partners. “If they have a good job and are well dressed, I’m more comfortable,” he replied. He then blocked me before I could say that his filters were privilege proxies that viruses disrespect.
Others adapted differently in search of friendship for intimacy. Braden Toan, another 60-year-old friend, changed his dating profile in May to post sex “without limits.” “That being said,” his updated profile says, “if walking around the park or walking or cycling with an attractive and interesting man would become my day … It must be better than sitting in your apartment and waiting for a vaccine.” Mr. Toan now has a boyfriend. “I appreciate the virus for slowing down the dating process, which brought us closer to new sets of needs that were more beneficial to meet,” he told me recently.
I joined the so-called “celibacy club” in the first week of March. No vaccines. Don’t think. Too many unknowns.
Then, three months after the pandemic, I felt that I needed a “safe” way out of celibacy. So at the beginning of the summer, I agreed to let a friend introduce me to my colleague. He lived in another city, so it was easier to keep our distance at first. We had video dates, but there were no “sexy“ zoom-in parties, ”as recommended by the New York Department of Health. We talked about the effects of coronavirus (minimal) and we both agreed to investigate until we meet in person in a few weeks. (Each of our tests was negative.) When we met, we had dinner at a restaurant with an outdoor patio, no masks and not within six feet. After dinner we took a walk and felt that familiar electrical building. Before the evening was over, we hugged, then kissed. It had a lot of sweetness and excitement – and some fear – to be with Bob all those years ago.
Looking back at these uncertain times, I thought a lot about Bob, who died in 2015 at the age of 64. Condoms have become saviors, allowing us to be intimate. What now – dental dams for kisses?
Because at least there is no vaccine yet and there is not much treatment. Intimacy is still woven from fear, kiss from kiss.
Steven Petrow (@stevenpetrow) is the author of the upcoming Stupid Things I Will Not Do When I Get Old.
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