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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The first time I had sex with a boy was very traumatic. I was very anxiety ridden. I ended up vomiting on him because I gagged so much during oral sex and then I immediately got dressed and ran out of the room.
I guess I was about 19 years old. I'd played around with guys before but that was the first time I really had sex with a guy.
When I started having sex, safe sex was just beginning and so everyone was saying, 'Oh, you have to wear condoms'. At that time I was serially monogamous for a long period of time and maintained safe practices - I always used a condom whilst fucking.
So from when I was 19 to 26 I had a number of relationships and they were all monogamous. I had always been a top and I was never told that there was a difference in terms of risk between being a top or a bottom. I always assumed that you had to use condoms when fucking. I never used condoms for oral sex. I have only ever had one guy want to use a condom for oral sex but I said, "Sorry, I can't do this".
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I was serially monogamous right up until I was 26. In my last relationship at that time there were a whole bunch of rules. I can't even remember all the rules; there were rules around everything. Before this relationship I suppose it was assumed that I would be monogamous, and so I was, but in this relationship this guy laid down the rules, and I think, because of the way he did that, I ended up saying to him, "Fuck ya! I'm not playing by your rules".
I wasn't even allowed to negotiate the rules: we didn't come up with the rules together; they were his rules and I had to follow them. There were rules about no sex outside the relationship; there were rules about the types of sex we would have in the relationship, and the roles we would maintain and on and on, rules upon rules, and so I ended up rebelling quite negatively against that, as is my personality, and I just decided that I wasn't going to follow his rules. I thought that he was a lovely guy and I was very much in love with him but I didn't like the rules.
The worst of the rules was that I wasn't allowed to negotiate the rules. I don't think at that time I had the capacity to say, “I don't like the way that this is being negotiated” and among all the rules I was explicitly told that I couldn't have sex outside the relationship - it was non-negotiable. So that wasn't a very good experience, and I think that at that point I started having casual anonymous sex.
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Originally I would just go to saunas but at that time I suppose it was really sporadic, like once every six months, and then I discovered beats. I felt horribly guilty and horribly bad about it because some of it was unprotected, so not only was I not following the rules, I was having improper, or 'wrong' sex in that, from time to time, it was unprotected sex.
Ironically, I was only having protected sex with my partner, so it was like an inversion of negotiating only protected sex outside the relationship and unprotected sex inside the relationship - it was kind of the opposite to that.
I was at a very rebellious stage of my life at that point; I think that I was a bit of a late bloomer in some respects. I suppose I felt I had finally come into my own so I said, "Fuck ya - I don't need your rules" and the relationship ended.
I made a conscious decision that I wasn't interested in a monogamous partnership; I found that I couldn't handle the enforced boundaries that I was forced to maintain. So then I decided that I just wasn't interested in relationships and I certainly wasn't interested in monogamy - but I was very interested in sex.
Because I worked in the HIV industry I made a commitment to myself regarding safe sex. I maintained that for at least a couple of years and then things started changing when I arrived in Australia. I started playing around with the concept of relative risk and I think my behavior was reinforced by continually testing negative because I was tested for HIV every six months. I only ever topped, but occasionally I would top without a condom. I would regularly get tested and as long as I continued to test negative then it would reinforce that I was okay.
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At first I felt really guilty about having unprotected sex, and then I started to feel that it was what I needed to have. But with unprotected sex came a lot of consequences, like declaring my sero-status, and I thought it was extraordinarily unfair of me to say that I was HIV negative when in fact I didn't actually know, so I found that was a very difficult time. And then I got sick; I was diagnosed with a seroconversion illness and ended up becoming HIV positive. I was using a strategy of only topping when I had unprotected sex, but my strategy absolutely failed.
In one way I suppose disclosure became a bit easier after I became HIV positive because, as I said, I found it very difficult to say that I was HIV negative with any sort of confidence, so when I became HIV positive it was easier for me to say, well I'm HIV positive - although becoming HIV positive was extremely traumatic.
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Originally I had no problem telling people that I was HIV positive in a casual sex encounter until one very heartbreaking experience. I was getting it on with this guy in a sex club and I told him I was positive and, you know, I'll never forget the look on his face, he looked at me as if I was a leper. He pulled up his pants and he left without even saying one word to me. I've re-lived that experience in my head a number of times and you know, he did that because I said I was HIV positive; there was nothing else I can think of that would have made him stop so abruptly.
That was horrible and after that I had a hard time telling people that I was HIV positive in a casual sexual encounter. So, from that point on, if people wanted to fuck, or if I wanted to fuck them, I would use condoms so that I wouldn't have to discuss my HIV status. If I knew that the other person was HIV positive then I would have unprotected sex. Now, I know about superinfection, but my reading of superinfection is that it's a bit like the risk of HIV transmission during oral sex - absolutely it can happen, but the risk is low.
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I am treating my HIV infection and I choose to continue to treat. When I was diagnosed, it was right at the end of that time when doctors were saying hit hard, hit early, so I was immediately put on treatment - probably prematurely now that I think about it - but I have continued on treatment and I'm very compliant. I've always maintained my treatments very carefully. So I continue to negotiate unprotected sex with other HIV positive guys, including my partner.
I believe that it's my responsibility, should I make that choice, to maintain an undetectable viral load and low infectivity and the way I do that is that I continue to treat and be monitored on my treatments.
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I will not have unprotected sex with guys who say that they are HIV negative or tell me that they don't know, I just won't - it's just too anxiety ridden, frankly. I think that's it's possible that I might have infected someone prior to being diagnosed myself. In fact, this guy I was having casual sex with called me and asked me if I was HIV positive. At the time, I thought that I was still HIV negative. He said to me, "I've just been diagnosed with HIV" and I was quite sick at the time with a seroconversion illness, so I'm not sure if I gave it to him or if he gave it to me - I don't know and it just made me feel worse. I think about the possibility that I could have infected him and I just hang my head in shame - it is the most horrible experience; it just rips me apart.
By the time I met my current partner I was very out about being positive. Prior to meeting my boyfriend I wasn't sure I wanted a partner who was HIV positive as well, but since I've been with him, and we've been together for the last four and a half years, I love the fact that we have the same HIV status; I think it allows us to have a degree of intimacy and shared experience that is really profoundly important for me.
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I mean, ultimately his HIV status wasn't the deciding factor - I fell in love with the guy - but HIV is a big part of our lives. I love the fact that as a couple we have a routine: I put out the pills, I remind him when his pills are running low, we share the experience of living with HIV really intimately, which is really great, and obviously I couldn't do that with a HIV negative guy. I mean, if I was with a HIV negative guy we would have a different level of intimacy, but since I am with another HIV positive guy I can talk about my anxieties and I don't feel like I'm talking to someone who's trying to be empathetic. I guess he really knows what I'm talking about.
We met in 1999 and I suppose that we were in our relationship for two years before he said to me that he never thought about the future going beyond five years, but after meeting me he started to think beyond that time frame. When we first met he was actually quite sick; he weighed considerably less that what he weighs now, he wasn't responding particularly well to treatments, he was living on the pension, he was trying to manage as best he could. I guess now he would say that by meeting me he was offered a different quality of life, and because of that his health has improved vastly.
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We have always really appreciated sex with other people, and it's never been about one experience being better than another; we acknowledge that sex outside the relationship is very different from sex inside it. We purposefully, because of my negative experience with rules, don't have any rules. We have a code of conduct, which is around respect and embedded in that is being truthful. Our preferred way of having sex with other people is sharing others within our relationship, so I guess you would call it having a threesome.
When I say it is sharing, it is like the experience of going to a fine restaurant and you share that experience; we share other people in our relationship. We don't have issues about whether one partner is connecting more intimately with this new person who has come into the relationship, and I think that's because we respect each other and we're really honest with each other. In fact, if one of us was having more powerful feelings with someone we had brought into the relationship we'd talk about that.
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We have had that experience where one of us has fallen in love with someone who was brought into the relationship sexually, but in the end it sort of resolved itself. Originally the third party was very excited by this notion of an ongoing threesome that was not just sex but intimacy as well, but ultimately the third party is always going to be the third wheel so finally the third party decided that it didn't work for him, because he was never going to be equal to the status that my partner and I share.
The other thing about sharing is that we generally choose to have sex with other positive guys, not so much because of condoms but because it's less anxiety ridden. But we've had some fantastic sex with negative guys and - do you know what? - It's all about the quality of the guy; it's not about the sex as such. If someone's negative and we bring them into the relationship to share sexually then we make it very clear that we're both HIV positive and that we're not interested in fucking without condoms. If they're interested in having sex without condoms then we're not into that and we won't do it.
Both my partner and I find that an extraordinary turn-off, it's actually not even exciting; I don't even think I could get hard at the thought of fucking some HIV negative guy without a condom - it just doesn't float my boat. The other thing about all this is, that we tend to like to have what's called 'chem-sex', which is using chemical recreational drugs to enhance the sexual experience. But it doesn't matter how off our faces we, or the third party might be, it's just not negotiable - we will not have unprotected sex with HIV negative guys.
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I am passionate about my partner, I am passionate about being together with him, I am passionate about our future together and the things we've shared in the past and I love sharing him with other people. One of the best things I like to do with him is, after we've had sex with someone else, we debrief it. We talk about what we liked best and what really worked - we never talk about what didn't work, we generally focus on what was really good about this person and what worked well in the scene we'd played out.
One of my favorite sexual acts is watching my partner getting fucked by someone else - mostly because I know how wonderful it feels fucking him - and I like the notion that someone else is taking pleasure in fucking my partner and I actually see it as sharing another really intense experience with him.
Neither of us believes in the institution of marriage as it is currently constructed, I think that we'd both agree that we see it as a construct that tends to subjugate one person to another in an inappropriate way. However, we have had to undergo an enormous amount of scrutiny with regard to our relationship: due to an application by me to become an Australian resident we've had every aspect of our relationship adjudicated, probed, considered, supported and analyzed by external bodies.
So in the end, even the Department of Immigration agreed that this relationship is an absolutely genuine, valid, strong, emotionally committed relationship and so it's hard not to celebrate that and the way in which many cultures celebrate the union of two people is through a wedding. It's about the celebration of two people together and I think, in our case it's a celebration of us having to defend our relationship.
I feel very excited and thrilled about the future with my partner; he's my best friend and the person who I want to spend my time with. We dream together, we talk about the future together, we commiserate about our mistakes together; he's the only person I have ever loved.