I think it may have been the very next day, when I was still luxuriating in the afterglow of the ten man orgy, when I got a text from a man I’d seen earlier in the month: “Sorry, but I think I may have exposed you to syphilis. You should get it checked out.”
I got in the car the next morning and went to run the entire battery of tests. I thought again about a comment that a reader had written on the Jan 8, 2017 post: “So can you post something about how you avoid health risks with all the unprotected sex you have? Do you ever worry about it?” I had put off answering. And while you could read that “…do you ever worry about it?” as if I didn’t have a brain in my head, I have decided to take it in a more neutral manner. So let’s talk a little about why and how I play bare. This is what I decided. It won’t work for everyone.
· Knowledge is power.
When I was still a ‘condom every time’ kind of guy, I read everything I could find on HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases. I talked to men who I knew were playing bare. I was so close to doing it, but I did not take the Magnum off until two things happened. The first was the death of my partner (which had nothing to do with HIV.) The opening of our relationship had included the caveat that I would not play bare so I wouldn’t be bringing stuff home to him. I played with many, many men when he was too sick to have sex anymore—I could have removed the condom with them and he’d never have known. But I didn’t. I waited until it was just me—for that’s what I’d promised.
The second thing that really decided me was the 2007 AIDS conference where they asserted that the safest bare sex you could have was a circumcised negative top fucking an undetectable bottom. I still wasn’t sure I could remove the latex. And I didn’t, until I had a three way with a known undetectable bottom bud and a top friend of mine. The top fucked him bare—and that top was a nurse.
· If you play bare often enough, you’ll get something.
When I started playing bare, I knew this and accepted it. The things I felt I was most likely to pick up are curable or manageable. I came of age playing bare. A trip to the public health clinic was a given. After all, back in my condom only days, I still got gonorrhea from a blow job .
· Know the symptoms.
Know what to look for and how long after sex the symptoms might appear. And know that many times there are no symptoms. Which leads right to the next point…
· Test regularly.
For me, with the guidance of the county nurse, as a man who takes nothing but a tongue up his ass, she thought once a year for HIV and every three months for everything else would be good. It’s worked very well for me. Many of my ‘busiest’ undetectable partners have the whole battery of tests each time they are doing their regular check-ups.
· Set your limits.
Only you know what you are comfortable to do. If I still had my foreskin (Damn, I would love to know the amount of skin it would take to cover me…) would I bareback? I don’t know. I likely wouldn't have until the advent of PrEP. I do know that if I bottomed, I would be on PrEP in a heartbeat. I have also stopped sex in it’s tracks when I have seen suspect things—like the man oozing sores around his anus who I had just hunkered down to rim.
· Contact your partners.
It’s not easy, but I believe that if you end up with something, you must tell the men you’ve played with that they might have been exposed. Text, call, email, take them to coffee. I don’t care how, but let them know. We’re supposed to be a band of brothers taking care and watching out for each other. I didn’t want the news of the text in one sense—but I sure did want it and needed to figure out who I’d seen since the man who exposed me.
· Your county health department is your friend.
I occasionally get a raised eyebrow that I’m back again. Well, fuck them. In the long run, they know that I am behaving responsibly and are glad of it. If you can’t face that, get a gay doctor. But tell whoever it is the truth about what you do sexually. If they don’t check your ass for you only admit to cocksucking, you aren’t helping anyone.
Back to me. I gave up my blood before lunch. I pissed in a cup. And it didn’t feel hot—it’s amazing how ‘unclean’ you feel once you know there if a possibility you’ve been exposed. Since my partner had tested positive for syphilis, they gave me treatment on the spot.
I went home and started to do rough drafts of the email I would send to my fuck buds. I did want to wait to make sure I tested positive syphilis, too, before I sent them out.
A week later we got the tests back. Just as I was finishing up the pills. The nurse told me the news by phone. I never had it. I tested negative for everything.
The emails were sent only to the trash.