Vignette Nr. 5

Is the use of condoms a question of responsibility and conscience?

Or: Can we compare syphilis and French fries!?

A very attractive man i recently had sex with texted me that i should check if i had got crabs from him. He was hastened to say that, thank God, i could not have got syphilis from him (which by the way neither he nor i had) as we had used condoms. That was a matter of responsibility and conscientiousness to him.

I argued STI prophylaxis was as little a matter of responsibility and conscience as is enjoying a plate of French fries.

He: A possible infection with hepatitis could hardly be compared with a visit to the French fry vending stand.

And although i was well aware i was comparing apples and flaviviruses, i stuck to my little provocation. It seemed important to me to take a critical look at the language of “individual responsibility” as it has been forced into our groins over the past decades.

Here’s the short answer:
(He got spared most of the sermon.)

That depends on whom you ask! Hahaha…
I know people who think gluten is a toxic food additive, and that foods containing this wheat protein are part of a world wide conspiracy against vegans and progressives. (not to mention *Oh horror!* against innocent CHILDREN!) LOL

Everyone has their own personal bugaboo.

It is telling that the gluten people often sense shame and fear after the consumption of even such gluten-free foods as French fries, many even for the mere desire to eat fries. The rationale being it is unhealthy, irresponsible, and unconscionable for any number of often valid reason, the rational and candid handling of which however is made all but impossible by an over-abundance of anxiety and guilt. Here certain parallels can be seen to the contemporary safe(r) sex dialogue which comes as no surprise given a brief moment’s thought.

☙ Here comes the long and wordy part ❧

During, and particular after the tragic health disaster of the 1980-90s (in the White, middle class West), the “New Right” to whom i count the homonormative Center-Right, has surreptitiously used (and is still using) the fear topic AIDS/STIs and prophylaxis education as a back door through which to promote an about-face in what little progress was made in peoples’ thinking during the “sexual revolution” (which itself was in fact more of a revolution light). The aim, to uphold a certain gender model, and maintain the effectivety of the topic of gender and sex as a way to use fear and shame to wield power over people. The result, people now no longer wish to be virtuous and chaste for the sake of God and country as they did at the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th Century, but rather to be responsible, conscientious, and healthy for the sake of oneself, in order succeed, and in the name of “safety”. Becoming a social outcast and the wrath of God no longer loom, but rather becoming a social outcast and economic disadvantage ranging all the way to precarity (for which of course one has only oneself to blame). The use of fear and shame about gender and sex as an instrument of power however still remains.
By way of contrast we may look at the cultural treatment of alcoholism, which is not subject to the same degree of social sanctioning by far. On the contrary, it is largely tolerated, even trivialized, the individuals involved often to an extent assisted and supported in public, at the workplace and in private. My suspicion is that this is due to the fact that in the case of alcoholism the element of gender and sex is not present, and thereby the insidious shame and guilt, that culture-defining lever for the preservation of a certain social order is missing. This makes the one difficult and troubling situation (alcoholism) to a certain (albeit inadequate) extent discussalbe and supportable, and the other (HIV and other STIs) an unmentionably horrid source of fear, and isolation to be born alone by the individual directly affected. This in turn is also the difference between an infection with HCV and adiposes. And so we have come full circle to the difference between hepatitis and fries.

I am not railing against the use of prophylaxis by any means. I have myself immunized against influenza et cetera, and i also use condoms when it is in the interest of my sex partners, particularly when that partner is HIV-negative. I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that i am very reserved where the evidence that safe(r) sex can be had without condoms when the HI-virus load of those involved in not detectable in a laboratory. Not that i doubt the results of such studies. It is mererly that the conditions under which the results came about in no way represent the day to day realities i see.
So, yes, use condoms if you have the feeling it is in your partners’ and your own interest, and certainly use them if it makes you more comfortable during sex. Doing so will make a great deal of aftertreatment unnecessary, much the same way walking home after enjoying your visit to the French fry vendor rather than taking the bus (to say nothing of driving!) will do. To conflate the matter into a question of responsibility or irresponsibility, conscience or lack there of seems to me to be over-shooting the mark, and at the same time at least implicitly supporting a very inhuman and hateful philosophy of society.

Let us perhaps instead speak of weighing the consequences or appropriate precautions, and work for a spoken as well as actual culture of mutual solidarity, rather than for a culture in which the liabilities of life become increasingly the domain of the individual whilst the gains are skimmed off without being reinvested in community solidarity.

For the record: The use of condoms is not an adequate form of prophylaxis in the case of the HC-virus. Fortunately, the last several months have seen new, very effective and rapid therapies become available to us well-to-do Westerners. This again brings us to the topic of community solidarity and community priorities.

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