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Black Journalist Connects
Anal Sex Culture with HIV

Compiled by GayToday

The African-American educator, writer, and journalist Chuck Tarver joined activist Bill Weintraub and others who are critiquing the domination of anal sex in gay male culture. Tarver focuses on the unquestioned role of anal sex in the high rates of new HIV infections among Black gay men.

In “Grabbing the Third Rail” the 47-year-old Tarver, editor of The Blackstripe, a leading online news source for LGBT people of African descent, notes that throughout the gay male community, and particularly among young and newly out gay men, “it is believed that unless you are penetrating or being penetrated you are not having sex,” and that safer sex campaigns unwittingly feed into this belief.

Tarver writes:

This is going to get me into trouble but it's time what I'm about to say was said. I'm reaching for the third rail! We could reduce the rate of new HIV infections in our community if we would reduce the rate of anal sex. There, I've said it!

Some will attack me as being sex negative. Others will call me a right wing religious fundamentalist, while still others will call me the black Larry Kramer. I'm none of those things. What I am is someone who is tired of not stating the obvious and in the meantime watching brothers (some of whom have been members of my own family) die. I'm tired of watching younger and younger brothers become infected.

It is clear to me that anal sex is dangerous. I don't need the Pope, Louis Farrahkan, or the local fire and brimstone preacher to tell me that. It is simple biology. Most of us now understand how this disease is transmitted.

Am I the only one who sees gay (men who have sex with men) culture as promoting penetrative anal sex? Does anyone else get it? Even the HIV/AIDS service organizations promote it! Their message which appears throughout the media is “Use a condom every time you have sex.” For emphasis they repeat it, “Every time you have sex!”

What they are saying is that unless there is penetration it isn't sex. They have taken a page from our 42nd President and defined what the meaning of “is” is. According to them sex is penetration. For gay men (men who have sex with men) it is anal penetration. Their safety option is a thin piece of latex. Little to no effort is directed toward encouraging safer erotic alternatives.

We clearly need to redefine the meaning of sex. We need a definition broad enough to include a wide range of behaviors including non penetrative acts such as frottage and masturbation. Acts that are proven to be safer than penetrative sex, even with condoms.

Yet, throughout our community it is believed that unless you are either penetrating or being penetrated, you are not having sex. Even young men, some of whom have little or no sexual experience hold that belief. They have already concluded that anal sex is simply a "fact" of gay life. They come by the belief honestly. It is the message transmitted by their gay and straight peers, their parents, HIV/AIDS service organizations, the porn industry and society in general. Everything tells them that anal sex is the "norm." They join in the practice without questioning. If condoms are handy, they may use them. If they are not, they don't.

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At the same time, we have come to believe that these young black men are becoming infected because they lead secret lives. Article after article tells us, that if they would just declare themselves "proudly gay" all their problems would be solved and we could get a handle on the rate of new infections. We are told to look at how the "gay" community has dealt with the problem. We are led to believe that if they would just venture forth and "come out" from their secretive lives, all would be well. Yet, none of those challenging these young men to change their lives, will challenge a culture that promotes penetrative anal sex as the norm.

The secret lives of these young men, while problematic relating to issues of self worth and self esteem, is not what's causing the high rates of infection. Truth be told, they could continue their secretive lives if they changed from the high risk behavior that they have come to see as “what sex is all about.” It's penetrative anal sex not their secrets that is infecting them. The very behavior that is promoted by the culture as the norm.

I am not calling for a ban on anal sex nor am I suggesting that HIV/AIDS service organizations stop the practice of condom distribution. I'm calling for open and frank discussion about what we find erotic. I'm calling for a change from a culture that promotes penetrative anal sex as the standard, to one that is open to a broad range of sexual behaviors and presents them all as equally “normal” in our sex lives. We also need to discuss the dangers and pleasures of anal sex. Men who enjoy it will continue to practice it. It is important that they learn to do so safely.

We will never get control of the rising HIV infection rates among young black men without challenging our current culture. A culture that promotes penetrative anal sex as the standard.

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