Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Unprotected Sex and Internalized Homophobia

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Unprotected Sex and Internalized Homophobia

Article excerpt

There are about 7,000 new cases of HIV in France each year. The epidemic touches every demographic, but among gay men, it has been rising, despite the fact that the gay community is historically better informed and at the center of the struggle against HIV/AIDS. If we look at the trend line of new cases of HIV in France, the total number has declined over the last 10 years, with an especially significant dip in the middle of the 2000s. There were 6,088 new cases in 2011, down from 7,451 in 2003 and a peak of 7,670 in 2004. If we look at the figures for men who have sex with men (MSM), one can see that the number of new cases is clearly higher (data specific to gay men does not exist, as they would be biased and track an identity rather than a behavior). It's the only trend line that doesn't show significant declines, contrary to that for all other groups. In some cases it actually increases over a period where the others decline, such as the period between 2008 and 2010.

THE NUMBERS: RISING CASES AMONG GAY MEN

These figures raise an obvious question--why do the numbers for gay men run against the grain? The statistical category itself could include both gays and bisexuals. The numbers might not be specific to gays only, but they do tend to lean in that direction. How can it be that gay men, historically more affected by and at risk for HIV/AIDS, are still so exposed to infection?

The statistics on condom use, or rather their non-use, are even more striking. The rate of condom use declines year after year while cases of unprotected sex multiply and are, for some, becoming a conscious choice, especially when it comes to the practice of barebacking. These new infections raise questions about attitudes toward risk, risk taking and the violation of prevention messaging. However, we can't consider such questions about risky sexual behavior without taking into consideration the idea of desire and its relationship to pleasure and transgression. Knowing that the possible consequences include contracting a disease as serious as HIV/AIDS, what motivations could be behind such sexually risky behavior?

The Perception of Homosexuality

Over the last two decades, the perception of homosexuality has profoundly changed. Its place in society has evolved, and, as a result, "gayness" has found itself transformed. The removal of homosexuality from psychiatric diagnostics--first in 1973 in North America and then in 1983 in Europe--took gays out their pigeon hole as deviants and perverts. Improvements in their legal standing--the adoption of civil unions in France in 1999 and more recently, following the lead of other countries, of gay marriage--has raised awareness and improved "tolerance" in the society at large.

Homosexuality may be more accepted by society, but it remains more vexing on an individual basis. It is easier to be tolerant when it affects other people rather than one's inner circle. Thus, homophobic attitudes endure, even if the way they are expressed has changed. They have become more discrete and more sophisticated, with harassment and persecution replacing physical attacks, which still exist but are increasingly rare. This behavior is particularly damaging, as it affects the formation of gay identity.

Sexual Orientation and Marginalization

When a boy has not yet recognized that he is gay, either because he doesn't see himself as different or because he hasn't recognized the difference yet, such difference may be noticed by others who bring it to his attention with insults. "Sissy," "fag," and "pussy" are epithets thrown at some boys. Even if the boy doesn't know what they mean with respect to his sexuality, he recognizes their vehemence. This name-calling sets gay boys and men apart, putting them in some other, lesser category of man. The images of him as a "girly man" who "takes it in the ass," is submissive and dominated. Even his sexuality is lesser, recalling again the work of Bourdieu (2002) on masculine domination. …

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