I’ve been HIV positive now for ten years. I became positive through unprotected, or “bareback” sex with someone, I’m not exactly sure who. At this point, it doesn’t matter to me; I have accepted what is.
In this time, I’ve had plenty of sex. Some of it was good and memorable, some of it wasn’t. Some of it has been with condoms, some of it hasn’t. Since I’ve become undetectable and viral-suppressed, most of it hasn’t. Even so, I’ve made my sexual partners aware that I’m positive, shared with them what I’ve learned, (with statistics and backed-up medical research if they requested it) that it’s highly unlikely–less than 3% chance–that I could pass the virus. I’ve been impeccable, and to the best of my knowledge, have kept my virus well-hidden and asleep inside of me, and haven’t spread HIV.
I’m single again. I just turned 45 last week. I have gotten the question from friends, my sister, even from my dental hygienist this morning, “So, are you going to throw yourself back in the dating pool?” This question has made me defensive and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure exactly why…so I gave it some thought. Here’s my answer. I hope this answer will resonate not only with others who are living with HIV, like me, but also those who are single by choice, newly single, or perhaps on the fence about re-entering the dance of dating and sex.
It’s just not appealing to hop on a sex and dating app like Scruff, Growlr, Grindr, Adam4Adam, or Bear411 and find someone. As tempting as it is to look at all the hot guys, most are either partnered or geographically unavailable. I find I need more. After my relationship ended, I went down that familiar route, as I’d done in the past…only this time it felt different. I have less tolerance or patience for the utter bullshit of fast-food dating and order-in sex, and the subsequent ugly feeling of being weighed, measured, and found wanting because of my HIV status, or because of my age. I’ve become frustrated with myself more than with anyone else when I feel myself on the auction block, and realize I’m using an extremely inhuman, manufactured and artificial means to “find someone”. It may be for some of you, and I don’t judge that. I found it is not for me…it’s not how I want to meet someone. I’d rather sit at home and read.
At the end of the day, I’m seeking intimacy over sex. A connection that goes deeper than inserting body parts into other body parts, and playing at kissing and holding like I mean it, when in reality, I just don’t. I have grown tired of sex as a place-holder until something–or someone–right comes along. How will I know who is right?
Sex is not casual for me anymore. I need more than a tee shirt and jeans. I need nakedness on the inside before I remove my outer clothing. For so, so many years, I have used sex as a drug, as a way to wield power, as a way to feel appreciated and loved, even if for a short time. I have been sucked by emotional vampires and bled by predators who use sex as a safari, bounding from one conquest to the next, tallying up their conquests like invisible heads mounted on the walls of their experiences. I know, because I was one of them. It’s time I stopped being a predator, a hunter and gatherer, and a consumer, and became a farmer and a scholar instead.
One recent evening, after I’d deleted all the apps, all the distractions and temptations and had nowhere to turn outwardly, I decided to sit with my horniness. I didn’t go to internet porn, I didn’t “sext a buddy” on my phone or on Facebook with enticing offers and photos of my junk. I sat with it. It was uncomfortable, but I breathed in and breathed out. The jumpiness and antsy feeling deepened and turned into longing…an emptiness. There is a hole that begs to be filled within, in a place just below my heart and above my solar-plexus…a small place that has its own rhythm and secret shape. I tuned into it, and realized how I had misused this part for such a long time.
You’re free to disagree, but I am convinced that too much casual sex will erode you. Only you know what “too much” is; only you know your level of tolerance. But it’s important to know. Sex can be as addictive as heroin, with as difficult a detox period. It’s easier to get than heroin, too, and there are plenty out there who are all too happy to provide you a fix. I’ve learned this the hard way, and continued to do it long after it was “too much”. Someone once told me that when we have sex with each other, we take a piece of that person into us, and we leave a piece of ourselves behind. It’s invisible, it’s not like sperm or any other fluid. It’s a spiritual piece, a stain left over. Enough of these pieces get taken from you, and you begin to lose your ability to recognize real intimacy and love when it comes. Every sexual act becomes a transaction rather than a connection. I believe that.
When I sat with the feelings of longing and loneliness, I realized I’d been running from the person who needed intimacy the most–myself. I’d been fumbling in the dark all these years, expecting boyfriends, lovers and strangers to know how to love me…how to work the gears…how to solve the Rubik’s Cube that is my heart, because I’d never successfully solved the puzzle. I’d grown frustrated and distracted and given up. I wanted to be loved so badly, and in the worst way, and often that’s exactly the kind of love I got. I had been a consumer, and had allowed others to consume me. When I couldn’t find anyone to innately understand me, to be everything and everyone I wanted them to be, I said “fuck it, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” and became a hunter and a predator, too. It was much easier than being vulnerable and truly naked. It was simpler than doing the hard work of loving myself and messing that up, then trying again and again through diligent practice until the pieces began to line up into a recognizable pattern.
That’s what I learned about myself when I sat with my feelings. It’s evolved since. I know differently now than I did before. Call it age, call it an acceptance of my HIV status, or call it becoming more aware, if you will. I don’t plan to fuck anymore. I plan to make love and cultivate intimacy, and not just in the bedroom with another man. I’m going to begin at the source. I’m connecting more often with that soft and secret part of my body where my Self waits on a balcony like a true and patient lover for my visit. I’m going to ask him questions, feed him with kindness, woo him and seduce him with new things, remind him of old things we used to enjoy doing together, and take him on adventures. I’m going know every part of his beautiful and masculine body. I’m making a life-commitment to him before anyone else, and we will grow old and die together.
And when I meet the other soul on this journey through life whose path crosses mine, and when he chooses to walk with me, he will be a man who has done and continues to do the same difficult work.