27 August 2002

Practising Safe-Sex

Équipe -Pose ta question!-

Everyone is at risk.  Everyone.  Race, culture, gender, or sexual
orientation… the AIDS virus does not discriminate.

What is HIV?  What is AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS.  It attacks the immune system, the body's natural defences against infections, bacteria, and other viruses.

When HIV develops into its later stages, the immune system can no longer resist infections.  This leaves the body opened to serious illness, frequently by viruses and bacteria that would normally be nothing to worry about.  This is called AIDS, or Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome.

The time between the contracting of HIV and the
development of AIDS varies from person to person.  Because of modern
treatments and medicinal developments, an individual who is HIV positive can
possibly live for years before getting AIDS.  However, the virus still has
no cure.

What are sexual practices at risk?

Looks can be deceiving.  Even those who are HIV positive can appear to be healthy, especially those who are unaware that they are sick.  Indeed, there are many people who have not been tested, and who remain ignorant of their HIV status, innocently infecting others and spreading the virus.  There is no way to visually discern a person's health when HIV is concerned.

The HIV virus can be contracted from body fluids, such as blood, sperm, ‘'precum,'' menstrual secretions, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.  When these liquids come in contact with another person's blood, the virus is transmitted.  Therefore, certain sexual activities are more risk-prone:

High Risk Behaviour: Anal penetration without a condom; vaginal penetration  without a condom

Low Risk Behaviour:  Oral sex. (To diminish the risk, you can suck without swallowing or getting any semen in your mouth)

No Risk Behaviour:    Mutual masturbation, kissing, hugging, and massaging

The use of a condom is currently the only way to make
penetration safer.  Even if the penis is removed before ejaculation during
anal sex, the risk is still high.  The anus wall and the end of the penis
are very fragile, with tiny blood vessels that can break easily, often without
any physical evidence.

Other sexually transmitted diseases

HIV is not the only sexually transmitted disease, and certainly isn't the only one whose symptoms are not immediately visible.  Other sexually transmitted diseases (called STD's) include genital warts, syphilis, herpes, gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, and hepatitis.

There are many clinics and community services that provide free testing, usually every six months or so.  Blood tests are also available at local hospitals or medical centers, and people who are sexually active would be advised to take advantage of these services.

This article contains some very basic information about a very complex subject.  It is strongly recommended to consult specialists such as doctors or health care professionals who specialize in AIDS and STD prevention.

More detailed information can be found on Sero Zero's website (www.sero-zero.qc.ca ).

Stay Vigilant

Alcohol and drugs can lower inhibitions and affect judgement.  Those normally very careful about their sexual practices and preventative measures can become lax and permissive, which could have disastrous results.

Other judgement compromising situations are states of
depression, or intense infatuation.  At these times, safe sex can be the
last in a long line of seemingly more important thoughts.  What is
important to remember is that it takes just once, so each step should be taken
with caution and careful consideration.

Share the responsibility with your partner

Often there is a stigma to wearing a condom, around which
many myths have arisen.  Some say that condoms reduce the sensitivity of
the penis, or that the act of putting it on is uncomfortable.  And,
granted, many people find it difficult to apply the condom, or feel differently
when using one.  But it is also possible to make safe sex erotic, and even
enjoyable because of the extra effort put into it.

The HIV test

In Quebec , all CLSC's offer HIV tests, and specialized clinics also exist for just this purpose.  Counselling services are also available, whether one is tested positive or not.

For the HIV test, there are typically two types: confidential and anonymous.  A confidential test is provided by Medicare, but without a name attached.  The individual begin tested is the only one who receives the results, and must provide written authorization for them to be given to anyone else, be it a doctor or insurance company.  Otherwise, the file remains confidential.

An anonymous test requires no name or Medicare card.  Generally, only AIDS tests are offered in this way, and most CLSC's offer them.  More information can be obtained from Sero Zero's website (www.sero-zero.qc.ca

In conclusion

Physical well-being is important, but spiritual and emotional health are necessary for a happy, fulfilling lifestyle.  In this day and age, you have all that you need at your fingertips, if you just take the time to use it.

It is important to remember that you are not alone.  The family and culture you grew up in need not conflict with your sexuality, and with mutual respect and consideration, understanding will be followed with acceptance.

It is also important to remember that, by law, no one is allowed to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation, whether you decide to live openly or not, just as no one is allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or spiritual beliefs.  However, it is up to you as to how you deal with others, and in the end, it is you who must deal with the consequences of your behaviour.

So be safe, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be proud of who you are.

Adapted from ‘I Am Of Many Colors.  Have Pride
in Them All’  published by Séro Zéro.