BOOKS: YOUNG GAY GUYS GUIDE TO SAFER SEX
Thu, 28 April 2011
A new book, giving young gay men a practical and no-holds barred guide to safer gay sex, has been published. The Young Gay Guys Guide to Safer Gay Sex deals with all forms of gay sex, from no-risk sex through low-risk sex to high-risk sex.
Its message throughout is that good healthy sex is great sex, to be enjoyed and relished, but always with the element of personal responsibility; respect for one’s own body and for that of one’s sex partner.
The Young Gay Guys Guide to Safer Gay Sex is endorsed by performer, playwright and HIV/Aids activist Pieter-Dirk Uys, who describes the book as being: "Clear, clever, funny, sexy and so so so needed."
The guide is a compilation of writer Robin Malan's Young Gay Guys column in Exit, the monthly LGBT newspaper, in which he dealt with questions, queries and comments concerning gay sex.
Malan also recently compiled, together with Ashraf Johaardien, Yes, I am! writing by South African gay men, which was published to acclaim last year.
The book features illustrations by Roberto Millan (winner of the international Africa e Mediterraneo award for ‘Best Unpublished Comic Strip by an African Artist 2009–2010’) who is finishing his Master’s degree on the art of the graphic novel.
Mambaonline spoke to Malan about the new book and what it aims to achieve.
Do you think that young gay guys are generally well-informed about safe sex?
Yes, but only in the general, fairly heretosexist, ‘loveLife’ kind of way.
So you don't think that enough has been done to inform them?
No; if that was the case, there’d be no need for the book. Supposedly, they’re dealing with safer sex in Life Orientation in schools. But how many Life Orientation teachers go on to say, “And now this is how all of this applies to gay men - and to gay women…”? It also depends who you are and where you live. If you’re reasonably affluent and you live in a well-resourced suburb, you are likely to have many more – and more sophisticated – sources of information around you all the time to give you the information.
You will be amazed at how poorly informed and unable to get decent information young gay guys are in, for instance, deep rural areas of this country. It’s difficult enough to find good information in a suburban public library; your chances of finding it in a far-flung rural public library are next to zero.
Do you think that young gay people are less informed than their straight counterparts?
I do think they are less informed. Does anyone tell them about how vulnerable the inner tissue of the rectum is? Of course not. A condom is assumed to be necessary for vaginal sex, but who talks to them about anal sex?
There’s an instance in the book of a young gay guy from a rural township who recounts a nurse coming to his school to talk about safer sex and telling her young audience that Aids is ‘a more harsher disease for gays’ than it is for straight people, and that Aids is worse ‘with sex from the back than from the front’. He lived with that fear for years until he wrote to the Young Gay Guys column about it. And, of course, what he was being told by this supposed ‘authority’ on the subject is complete and utter balls.
What is the biggest misconception that young gay guys seem to have about safe sex?
That you don’t have to exercise constant and total vigilance about the Golden Rule: NEVER fuck or allow yourself to be fucked without a condom and water-based lube.Why are you the right person to answer young gay guys’ question on sex?
I have behind me twelve continuous years as a volunteer counsellor for the Gay and Lesbian Helpline for Triangle Project; and for three of those years I was the facilitator of GABYS, which stood for the Gay And Bisexual Youngmen’s Support-group, so I was in constant face-to-face contact with young gay guys and their concerns. I learnt a lot from them.
What interested you in handling the column for Exit?
Well, exactly that, really. I believed there was a need out there, that young gay men needed to know that their concerns were being seriously addressed, and where better to do that than in the country’s best-known gay newspaper?
Why do you think it is valuable to collate all the columns into a book?
The core of the guide is a column I wrote in response to an appeal from a reader called BoyBoy, who asked: “For someone who has not had sex, what must we do in bed when having sex (put in the steps) because I would not like to get ill on my first time.” That was way back in 2006. Since then I have had innumerable requests from young gay guys to have a copy of this column, and I’ve dutifully emailed it to every one of them. After the success of Yes, I am!, I decided to collect together all the columns that related to young gay men and safer sex.
What was your biggest challenge in answering the questions over the years?
I wouldn’t say that it was a challenge, really, but I wanted the young readers and writers to feel that their concerns were being taken seriously, though not dealt with in a po-faced or solemn or in any way moralising sort of way.
What do you hope to achieve through the publishing of the book?
I have managed to secure funding for the printing and distribution of the book, from the Aids Foundation of South Africa Culture and Health Programme, itself funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy, and from Triangle Project. This means that close on 15 000 copies of the guide will be distributed absolutely free to young gay men through the outreach programmes of those funding agencies. And that’s fantastic. Huge thanks are due to them, and also to Anthony Waldhausen, the Director of the Gay and Lesbian Network in Pietermaritzburg, who took the project to the AFSA in the first place.
I assume the book is applicable to guys of all ages?
It’s designed for the younger reader but I can’t see that it wouldn't be. There is enough pure information that it will be useful for any reader.
Apart from the safer sex issue, in general do you think gay men are aware of the ins and outs of gay sex? How informed are we about sex with another man?
I think some gay men go out to get the info but an awful amount just rely on the experience of the moment. I think, though, with the spread of the internet and the free access to porn, many people are pretty sussed.
Do you think these kinds of guides can lead to real change in behaviour?
For those older men who have too much to drink on a Friday night, probably not, but for young guys starting out it may help establish a better pattern for them in the future.
What other interventions do you think are needed?
In the guide I ask young gay guys to sign a pledge to always to use condoms and water-based lube whenever they engage in high-risk sex. I am hoping to get one of the LGBTI organisations to follow that up by supplying those young men with condoms, lube and safer-sex literature. That’s my particular further intervention. I’m sure there are dozens more: for example, getting the right kind of information out to all kinds of schools; changing the mindsets of principals, teachers, librarians. I’d love to see a real campaign aimed at getting gay and gay-interest books into public libraries, for in