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Two Sense: I Want to Feel Proud of My Porn Star Boyfriend. How?

Two Sense:

I'm a 43-year-old gay San Franciscan, born and raised. For the last year, I've been dating a great 30-something guy who, it happens, is also a porn star. This probably seems a bigger deal than it is, as the city is full of them, given that so many adult videos are produced here. It seems every other hot Castro guy has appeared in at least one video scene. My guy has a regular (non-porn) job but every month or so he gets around $700 to star in a skin flick. We have already agreed upon monogamy, with the obvious exception of his monthly gig, which he considers modeling, not sex, even though there is actual penetration. Since there is no emotional attachment for him, and I’m not the jealous type anyway, that works for me. But here’s my problem. We are both HIV-positive, and he is working for a company that specializes in "bareback" porn and poz models. My problem is that the company has a bad reputation for this very reason (promoting unprotected sex), so it seems like I'm spending all my time defending my BF's side-job among my friends. I want to feel proud of him, but it seems like everything is sidetracked by this one factor. How do I get to a place where I feel less defensive?

She Said: I think you’ve got an uphill battle on your hands. Assuming your circle of friends is composed of gay, straight, poz (HIV-positive), and HIV-negative folks, you’re bound to run into varying levels of information, emotion, and bias. The idea of a person with HIV having unprotected sex tends to evoke a strong negative reaction in people—even if logically they realize that two poz partners are at much less risk for sharing disease than if one of the partners were negative. I say “less risk” because there are still risks. For one, there are many strains of HIV, and a poz man can still pass on a more virulent or drug-resistant strain to his partner. And HIV isn’t the only factor. There’s been a recent swell in sexually transmitted Hepatitis C among poz men, quite possibly tied to the barebacking trend. And the liver cancer and cirrhosis caused by Hep C just happens to be the No. 1 cause of death in poz men who have access to HIV drugs. Since 30 percent of those with HIV also have the Hep C virus, this risk is very real. Hep B is no picnic either, especially for someone whose immune system is already compromised. Have you both been vaccinated for Hep B, and does your BF’s poz-friendly employer test for these viruses? If they do, that would be a good piece of information to share with those who judge him. But in the end, even though people realize that this is between two consenting adults, and that HIV is often no longer the death sentence it once was, their primal reaction to the idea of people sharing body fluids laced with very nasty (and costly) viruses is probably going to remain neutral at best, and often negative. Settle for the fact that you feel proud of your BF and understand his side job—and make sure you take care of your own health given the associated risks. I wouldn’t go on a public relations campaign about this one if I were you. Regardless of orientation or HIV status, neither you nor your boyfriend are compelled to divulge this (quite personal) detail to anyone, anyway.

He Said: I totally understand your dilemma with your BF's "hobby." It is one of the great pleasures of a new relationship to show off your new partner to friends and family, and this one—relatively minor but highly sensational—facet of his life is getting in the way. You are going to have to draw on your internal strength to remember that what counts is that you are proud of the BF, and not the shallow views of others. Of course there are inherent health risks of barebacking, no matter your status, but generally speaking, poz guys have decided to sero-sort by eschewing condoms during intercourse with other poz guys. This is one of the things that has helped keep the new infection rate among gay men at relatively low levels. Testing has allowed gay men to pick their sex partners on that basis, making the possibility of high-risk "sero discordant" hookups much less likely.

Of course "She Said" is correct: There are other types of STDs to worry about. But most gay men have been vaccinated for Hep B, and Hep C is actually unlikely to be transmitted via sex, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The multiple-strain hypothesis has never been confirmed medically.) The others are treatable but a concern nonetheless in your overall health profile. The porn producers that only employ poz men are actually, in my opinion, doing us a favor: Creating porn that poses a much-reduced health threat to the performers while creating bareback fantasy scenarios that HIV-negative gay men (and straight women) can consume without actually engaging in the risk in real life. I would not feel compelled to defend your BF to anyone. Just state it as a fact, and move the conversation along. You might also want to think about developing friendships with folks who do not feel compelled to judge others in what is, at the very least, an extremely complicated moral conundrum that defies easy answers.

Confused? Curious? Heartbroken? Send your questions to twosense@7x7.com