Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.
Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!
There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.
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I’m Cambodian. I came to Australia in 1980 when I was three. I have to say that I feel like I’ve grown up in Australia, so I feel that my background is just somewhere in the background!
I was very lucky in that my first boyfriend happened to be very caring and sort of taught me the right ways and I’ve carried that through the rest of my life and all the relationships that I’ve had since.
My first relationship was with a guy who was about six years older than me, so he had a bit more experience than me, I guess. Well, compared to me, a lot more experience. For me it was a long-term relationship; it went for seven months and we didn’t have sex until about two months into the relationship. I was seventeen.
I was at this barbecue and I was just minding my own business eating, chatting, socializing and I must have caught this guy’s eye and he asked for my phone number through our mutual friend. So my friend called me up and said, “There’s this guy at the party who was interested in you”.
I actually said no because that’s just the person I am - but knowing who I am, my friend thought it would be nice to just give him my number anyway! So I got a call from him out of the blue and I just thought, “Why not? I’m doing Year 12; I’m going crazy studying.” At that age I was still trying to accept my sexuality and I thought it might be nice for me to meet someone who was gay. I didn’t know a lot of people and I certainly didn’t go to any of the nightclubs, which were pretty much the only idea for me of what the gay community was. Anyway, we ended up having a dinner and we got along really well.
I knew from the start that I thought he was a really nice guy. I was physically attracted to him and he went out of his way to get to know me. I was still living at home. All those secret calls you have to do at home or meeting outside without your parents knowing, but he was very nurturing and caring and also he helped with my schoolwork which was good and I probably wouldn’t have performed as well as I would have if I hadn’t met him.
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There was a lot of kissing and all that beforehand and there was always this, you know, “When do we go to the next stage?” It sort of just happened, so we never spoke about, “Oh, when we do have sex we’ll have safe sex”, or anything. I actually never asked him if he was positive or negative and in fact that never entered my head at that time, so we never had the discussion. At seventeen it never entered my head that he might be positive; it just wasn’t an issue for some reason.
I reckon he instilled safe sex in me. It could be that it was just an unconscious thing, in that every time we had sex it was safe. So afterwards I just thought it was normal to have safe sex every time, regardless of how you feel about the person. Now, being wiser, I think I’d do it still because I know that no matter how much you feel like you know the person, sometimes they can let you down and it could only be one instance and we all know that it could be one little slip up that could lead you to HIV.
If I met another person and had a different first experience it could have all turned out very differently. I could have turned out a lot differently. At that age, at seventeen - that’s ten years ago - looking back, I was half a person. I was still growing up, so it was quite possible for him to have moulded me or shaped my views and shaped my ideals. I was quite impressionable so I guess I can only say that I was very lucky that he didn’t take advantage of it.
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The stupid thing is that breaking up was nothing to do with the relationship. It was all to do with me closing up because I was too stressed and also because I felt like the relationship might have been going too fast. It was too serious and for a first relationship I guess I didn’t know how to handle that.
So all these things contributed to me closing up and feeling stressed and eventually he broke up with me. Being stubborn I just said, “Alright, fair enough, if that’s what you want there’s no point in me saying otherwise”, and then he got angry because I sounded so flippant about it, that I could just give up this relationship so easily.
After that, I didn’t have another relationship until I was 20 and in between that I was just kissing guys; that was the furthest I’d go with anyone. It’s still like that. My circle of friends still talk about, “Oh, how far did you get this time?” in a joking way. If anyone goes out on a date we’ll say, “How far did you go?”
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I can’t remember when, but I came across this safe sex brochure and it was so graphic, so unbelievably graphic, but from that brochure I learned putting on a condom and all those sorts of things. It sort of injected this sense of fear in me as well. So I’ve never had unsafe sex regardless of how long my relationships are. I don’t know if that’s being anal – that’s probably not the right word! – I don’t know if that’s being overly safe, but I don’t think there is such a thing.
I’ve always made it quite clear from the start that if we had sex it would be safe sex and because of that, if any guys weren’t comfortable with that, it never led to anything further. I think sex with condoms is satisfying because I feel that it’s safe. I could never have satisfying sex with unsafe sex because I’d be worried; there’s always that little fear.
I’ve only ever had one one-night stand and I’ve only ever slept with three men in my life. That’s because, although sex is fun, for me it’s more than a physical thing. I like to have sex with someone that I adore and think is amazing. I’ve never wavered from that.
I always think, from my point of view, there’s no harm in waiting; you don’t need to just have sex. I could be in love with someone the first night, or I could feel like I am, but I wouldn’t have sex on the first night with anyone. That’s because I don’t think it’s necessary really. I don’t go out looking for just sex; I’m more interested in meeting and getting to know the person and if sex comes then that’s because I really like the person.
I guess if you ask me why I’ve been able to stay safe, one of the reasons is my first relationship. I can only put it down to having met a really great person. The other reason is my parent’s relationship: their marriage provided a blueprint and a great structure for me to follow. They’ve been married forever and that’s what I want. I don’t want just sex partners or anything like that. I want a relationship with a person that I appreciate and I can talk to.
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I’ve come close to having unsafe sex and that was enough to scare me enough not to ever put myself in that position again. It was probably because I was on drugs and intoxicated with so much alcohol that I let all my guards down and the only reason why I didn’t go home with this guy was because I was around friends who I was able to trust. And they knew for sure that if I was able to think properly that I would never have gone home with this guy and they pulled me out of that situation.
It was at one of those Docklands New Year’s Eve parties. I tell my friends all the time that I never want to have a one night stand, so the fact that I was going to have one was enough for them to realise that I was, well, they knew what I had taken. One of them, the designated driver, hadn’t taken anything, so he knew. Usually, when we do all go out, there’s always one who’s the designated driver or ok or sober to take care of the crazy ones. We take it in turns.
I have a circle of friends that I wouldn’t say go and have lots of one-night stands. I’ve just been drawn towards that sort of crowd. When I was younger, when I was about 18 or 19 and I was doing my crazy days going to nightclubs, I did have a group of friends that did go to beats and they would tell me all sorts of stories that blew my mind. Those friendships never lasted. At the time I just felt that they were in a different world to mine and I found their stories really tiresome, you know, coming up and telling me about their latest conquest or escapade. It just had no interest for me.
My friends share the same philosophies as me, absolutely. Actually, most of them would. There’s some that surprise me and have had unsafe sex - which I cannot believe they have done. They have scared themselves, because having unsafe sex makes going through the motions of getting tested for HIV and all that sort of thing very scary for them and their friends. I don’t want to be put in that position and I don’t want my friends to be put in that position, which steels me not to have unsafe sex. In fact, I’ve never been for an HIV test because I’ve felt like there was never any point. I feel like I’ve never had a risk, so I feel like there’s no point in having a test.
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I don’t have a clear strategy on why I’ve stayed negative. Luck is part of it I think. Also being with my circle of friends...Sometimes I speak to guys that I’ve worked with and they’re like, “I’ve had 60 men in my life” and I’m thinking, “My god, I’ve only had three!”, and so sometimes I feel like I should be having more. Not that I ever do, but that does put a little pressure or a seed in my head and I start thinking, “What have I missed?” or, “What have I done?” I always start thinking rationally again afterwards but at the time of talking to these guys... Afterwards, once you’ve had a think about it all you realise that it’s ok to only have had three men in your life: its ok to have had 60; its not a numbers game at all. It’s about quality over quantity for me.
I had my second relationship when I was twenty. We met at uni; I did performing arts at uni. It was at some cast party. My friends seemed to always try to set me up with someone and we were set up. I met him on the night, chatted, had a few drinks, kissed, exchanged phone numbers and – actually, this is really funny, I went home and found his number in my underwear and I still don’t know how it got there! It was on a piece of serviette and I just woke up and found it, but I’ve never managed to realise how he did it without my knowing.
In that relationship, again we didn’t have sex until a lot later, three months into the relationship. I can’t understand why that wouldn’t be easy for him, but it might have been a bit strange and I sensed that it was. He just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t taking it to the next step when clearly we really like each other. I don’t know why I do that; it’s just this period where if it’s going to last then why not just wait a little?
He wasn’t pressuring me. Let’s clear up sex! We never had anal or head jobs - oral sex - we did mutual masturbation (laughs) I’m getting all embarrassed! Yeah, we did all that beforehand. I guess that was enough. It was enough for a while. When we did take it to the next level, there was no conversation about, “Let’s take it to the next level, oral or anal”. It just happened that we came home one night and we weren’t intoxicated or anything; we just came home one night and it happened. Although there were times when he’d make a move and then I’d just pull him back up or something.
I suppose that when we had the first discussion about sex it just came up in conversation and I’m sure I would have said or mentioned something like I don’t really have sex until I’m comfortable with it or I really like the person.
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I’ve always maintained a distance from the gay community. I suppose I really didn’t like the gay scene, which is the nightclubs. I guess my idea or what I was fed about the scene wasn’t very positive, you know, that it was a meat market.
I mean, I’d come across men having sex in the toilets and things like that and it was just Erk! (shudders) for me at that age. It was just, “I don’t want to be around this sort of place”.
It really shocked me. I don’t have a problem with guys having sex at beats or at toilets if that’s what they like, but for me I was just really shocked by it all and I couldn’t believe that they were doing it in public in front of everyone. I literally just ran out of the toilets in total shock. It was like witnessing, I don’t know, it just challenged what I thought happened in this world. So I removed myself from that sort of situation. I’m sure that I could view it now and I’d be fine, at this age.
Not Using Condoms
I’ve always maintained that I will always use a condom. Actually I lie; I have thought about having unsafe sex and that would have to be in a relationship that was a long-term relationship where I entirely trusted this person. I feel like the only time I will ever have unsafe sex is in a relationship where we’ve both tested ourselves regardless of what you’ve said prior and we’ve agreed on this monogamous relationship. Then, maybe then, I would have condomless sex, but I’ve never come to that road. Like, I thought I was going to be cool with a positive partner but I wasn’t.
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I had a relationship - and I never counted this as one of my three relationships as I never had sex with him - with a guy who was positive. I thought that I was cool enough to deal with it all and have a relationship with a guy that was positive and I wasn’t. And maybe if he’d let it go on a bit longer I would have been able to come around and become comfortable with it, but I was finding myself questioning things like drinking from the same cup and all sorts of ridiculous things that I know were wrong but that still entered my head, despite my education and despite my knowledge of HIV.
I guess that’s natural; I don’t know, but that was the first relationship where I went in aware that he was positive and I thought that it wasn’t going to cause any issues or problems for me, but it did. Even if the relationship continued and you have safe sex you’re always afraid that the condom’s going to break; that’s always in your head.
‘He was quite open about his status from the get go..’
I saw him at one of my exhibitions and I went up to him. He knew my work already from one of my previous exhibitions so we had a nice intellectual conversation. So we went out for drinks afterwards and that’s how we met. And he was quite open about his status from the get go. I mean I didn’t ask him and he didn’t make a point of telling me, it just came up in conversation because my work is about gay Asian men and their experiences and it came up in there that one of the guy’s first time was with a positive man and how that’s shaped him. Anyway, he said that he was positive as well. I said, “Yeah, that’s cool. Who cares?” But little did I know that I would start thinking about the small things.
Two months into getting to know each other he was wondering what was going on and where I was thinking this relationship was going, so he questioned me on it and I sort of didn’t want to tell him why. I was ashamed to tell him that I’ve had thoughts of not drinking from the same glass you have...oh, you know, I’m still ashamed about it. But I did tell him and he didn’t think that that was a problem. I said, “I thought I’d be comfortable with your being positive, but I’m not sure if I actually am comfortable with it. I know this may sound stupid and crazy but I can’t help it. I think about all the risk s and all these little things keep popping into my head when we’re together, like even kissing after I’ve brushed my teeth. How stupid is that, to have those thoughts, but I do”.
He’s probably come across this before and he said from the start that he sort of prefers positive men so that this sort of issue doesn’t arise. So we decided; well, he decided, that maybe it’s best that we ended it. I was actually thinking maybe I’d come around but... maybe not.. But I would have tried really hard.
But sometimes you just can’t change the little nagging thoughts in your head no matter how irrational they are. Because, I’ve read the brochures and I’ve spoken to people: I mean, one of my best friends is a doctor and he tells me all the medical stuff like all the risks and how if you’re kissing someone there’s a very slim chance of ever getting the HIV virus through that way and to stop being silly, because I told him about what I was thinking and I couldn’t change.
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I would have to say that my knowledge of HIV if I had to grade it from one to ten would probably be about five. I don’t think I know enough and I’ve always lived my life with the philosophy that if I have safe sex then that’s fine, I don’t need to know any more than that but I’ve never had a friend who’s died from HIV. I don’t know what happens; apart from seeing pictures or stories, I’ve never seen it first hand. And if I do have questions or something I’ll just go and ask my doctor friend.
And apparently there’s this new drug - I’ve forgotten what it’s called but if you feel like you’ve put yourself at risk and you can get it within 24 or 48 hours, the drug may prevent the HIV from going any further.
I guess I assume that my partners are negative, but I don’t know. I do ask them. It could be through this joking conversation; I don’t want to be too serious about asking a person their status. I ask them when I feel like I can trust them to tell me if they are. A simple yes or no is enough for me... unless they want to tell me how and what happened, I have never continued to ask them.
On some level I’ve thought about whether or not their knowledge of whether they have HIV or not is accurate, but I’ve never given it much thought because I practice safe sex. But some of my partners were quite experienced before they had the relationship with me – they’d had several partners at one time – so how can I know that they’re not HIV positive? I can’t.
But I felt that it was OK if I could control what I was doing and that’s having safe sex. And that was enough for me. I’m believing what they tell me and in all relationships I’m sure you’ll agree there’s an element of trust. You can’t not trust someone or it’s not going to work. If they’d told me that they’re negative then I’d accept that and that’s usually asking them after I’ve got to know them quite well and I’ve only had three guys!
Koky's parents are from Cambodia and he was born there
Koky moved here from Cambodia with his parents when he was three years old.