It seems like everyday, another hidden portion of gay male sexual life is revealed to the general public. The internet has given many people, straight and gay, a glimpse inside of our community’s most private activities, but without the context to properly understand what they are viewing.
When gay males are the recipients of this information, our community suffers. We cannot allow random sexual images across a computer screen to replace conversations and knowledge as it relates to our sex lives and the safety and security of ourselves and our partners.
Members of the leather and fetish communities will recognize Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC) as one of the philosophies surrounding ethically acceptable behavior in BDSM, kink, and alternative sexuality communities.
- Safe means that the risk of activities should be understood by all participants and either eliminated or reduced as much as possible.
- Sane refers to the need to approach activities in a sensible and realistic frame of mind, and with an understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality.
- Consensual means that all participants have freely consented to the activity and were in a state of mind to do so.
These three simple words can, and in our opinion should, be applied to any and all types of sexual activities. This is simple to do once we expound upon the definitions and put them into practice for real world scenarios.
There is a freedom, a form of liberation, that some believe comes with being gay and out of the closet. To these guys, this means that anything and everything is acceptable, because they are no longer restricted by heteronormative rules and values. The concern with a mindset like this is that many guys end up being irrevocably harmed, just to satisfy the sexual needs of others.
This is not the way to build a healthy and sustainable community.
SSC is the title of this article but to truly make it applicable to our real lives, we are mixing these principles with those of Risk Aware Consensual Kink (Rack). We are supporters of this method of thinking because it acknowledges the inherent complications within the term “safe” and also places a greater emphasis on personal responsibility.
“risk-aware consensual kink” (RACK), indicating a preference for a style in which the individual responsibility of the involved parties is emphasized more strongly, with each participant being responsible for his or her own well-being. Advocates of RACK argue that SSC can hamper discussion of risk because no activity is truly “safe”, and that discussion of even low-risk possibilities is necessary for truly informed consent. They further argue that setting a discrete line between “safe” and “not-safe” activities ideologically denies consenting adults the right to evaluate risks vs rewards for themselves; that some adults will be drawn to certain activities regardless of the risk; and that BDSM play—particularly higher-risk play or edgeplay—should be treated with the same regard as extreme sports, with both respect and the demand that practitioners educate themselves and practice the higher-risk activities to decrease risk. RACK may be seen as focusing primarily upon awareness and informed consent, rather than accepted safe practices. Consent is the most important criterion here. The consent and compliance for a sadomasochistic situation can be granted only by people who can judge the potential results. For their consent, they must have relevant information (extent to which the scene will go, potential risks, if a safeword will be used, what that is, and so on) at hand and the necessary mental capacity to judge. The resulting consent and understanding is occasionally summarized in a written “contract“, which is an agreement of what can and cannot take place.
Because everything in life involves some level of risk, nothing is truly absolutely safe. This is why the HIV/AIDS community moved away from the term safe sex, to safer sex. But, even now, there is still controversy about what the word safe means to different people and regarding different sexual activities.
We cannot totally remove risk from our lives, but we can try to either limit the amount of risk and/or make calculated decisions about an action based on experience and knowledge.
To this end, we as individuals, and as a community, must make concerted efforts to gain as much knowledge and education about our bodies, sexual activities and increase our emotional aptitude to make better choices for ourselves and our partners.
For the last forty (40) years, gay males have had the concept of safer sex drilled into us as the only way of having sex. Now, we have many more options than just abstinence and condoms to protect ourselves from HIV. From sero-sorting, PrEP, PEP and UequalsU, the world of HIV prevention and treatment has changed the very meaning of what safe sex means. But, all of this means nothing if we don’t have the facts or believe the science behind it.
We all want to be safe within our person. To be free from violence and physical aggression. For most of us, this includes our sexual life. A potentially dangerous activity can take many shapes and forms, depending on the participants, but when communication and agreeance aren’t involved, harm and even death can result.
Unfortunately, we live in a world along-side some very violent people. They walk among us without notice but can be very dangerous once we encounter them. These people will use anything to their advantage for control and power. This includes age, size, height, weight, sexual positions and even fetishes. Being aware of the dangers inherent with meeting strangers for sex, and sometimes even those we know, is a healthy step in self-preservation.
There are countless varieties of play that can involve force, but these must be agreed upon. We are not judging your actions, rather hoping to instill a sense of honour among practitioners. Your desire or even fetish of force shouldn’t over-ride your partner’s right to physical safety in his own body. This isn’t just about BDSM or “rough sex”, but can include basic acts like “violent fucking”, “gag the fag” and even “face in the pillow, ass in the air”.
It is truly sad when we actually have to type: DON’T HURT THE PERSON YOU ARE HAVING SEX WITH.
Western society has placed a premium on the feelings of women, but it is only recently that conversations about men and our emotions have taken a place on the stage. Even with this being said, the stereotype is that we do not connect with our sexual partners on an emotional level. It is assumed, or even hoped, that we are without feelings and attachments when it comes to sex. This, of course, isn’t true. We all can and do form attachments to those we meet and have sexual encounters with. Maybe it is for the moment or even for a life time, but however long it lasts, the point is that those attachments were created and existed in the first place.
As gay males, we don’t have a strong track record of treating each other well. And this includes our sexual interactions. From lies and deception to cheating and emotional game playing, the damage we cause each other is much worse than anything straights have ever done to us, because we were not expecting it to come from one of our own. These actions create an air of mistrust and doubt in the mind of those on the receiving end, and for some, can never be overcome.
Yes, we do have a responsibility to respect and protect the emotional safety of those we sexually interact with. It does not take much to be kind, instead of thinking of his body as your personal play ground, to use as you wish, and then discard. As a community of men, we can do much better than this.
Sanity, in this sense, doesn’t denote a level of mental aptitude, or a lack there of. It also is not “sane” verses “crazy”, rather about knowledge and the ability to stay within the moment with your sexual partners.
Porn: Fantasy verses Reality
We are all adults and have all seen porn. Porn itself, isn’t an issue, but when guys allow pornograpy to totally shape the way they view sex and their sexual partners, problems are the likely outgrowth.
In terms of fantasy, porn is very high up there with superhero movies and actions flicks. It is heavily scripted, with actors that are paid to perform, as needed, how needed, when the directer yells action. That. Is. Not. Your. Life.
Sex in the real world is a complex dance of questions and answers with all participants needing to agree on all parts. A few categories of gay male porn center on aggression, and forced sex. The actors do appear to enjoy it, but this is exactly what they are paid to do. The guy you met on Grindr, might not like his sex mixed with physical force or violence. He may, but you won’t know for sure unless you ask, and he verbally agrees.
Pornogrophy has also shaped the way we see our sexual partners in a way that can be, on the low end, disrespectful, to the high end of being degrading and even sexual assault and rape. A few things that need to be discussed, or left in the world of fantasy are:
- Violence of any kind
- Race play
- Objects such as whips, paddles, and canes
- Bodily fluids, including spit, piss and scat
- Condom usage
- Drug usage
- Multiple Partners
- Adult Toys
Now that we are firmly within the world of #metoo, consent is becoming a hot topic within both the straight and gay male communities. It is important that we see ourselves and our personal interactions with other men within this context, because we are not immune to issues of sexual harassment, assault and even rape.
We have another article where we specifically address the age of consent for gay sex. Depending on the country and even state, males under the age of twenty-one (21) may not be able to legally give their consent to participate in sexual activities. It does not matter if the minor says that he wants sex, because by law, he does not have the power to do so.
The gay male community has a serious issue with drug and alcohol abuse. This is usually linked to sexual activity. But, legally, those under the influence of these substances cannot consent to sexual activity. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a guy that has had one or two beers can’t consent, rather it follows the laws of intoxication each country has. If he can’t drive, he shouldn’t be having sex.
Special attention needs to be paid to those attending Chemsex parties or even engage in PnP. In some major cities, the rates of sexual assault and battery is climbing within this community at an alarming rate.
It should go without saying that those guys who are living with severe levels of mental illness cannot consent to sexual intercouse. Men with depression, anxiety and even bipolar disorder may fall into this category depending upon the severity of their illness at a particular time.
We saved the largest and most troubling issue of consent for last. We all know that rape is not only illegal but morally wrong, but there are other types of force or coercion that can have the exact same effect and outcome of rape. Sexual assault comes in many forms, most of them are subtle and or use a level of verbal, mental or emotional abuse and threats.
Not everyone is on the same playing field of sexual experience and/or emotional needs. Taking advantage of this difference, through relationship, age, race or even HIV/STD status is a form of abuse. Guys in this position are not able to consent to the sexual act because they don’t have the power to say no, or they are being enticed beyond reason into performing the acts. This can happen by way of financial incentive or even housing for those who are homeless. Some guys have even used outing someone over their HIV status or financially blackmailing them into performing sexual favours.
No one can consent to actions that they are not aware of, or risks that they have not been informed of. This is when criminal law comes into play.
Much of the United States have HIV criminalization laws, which penalize those guys who know that they are living with this virus but do not disclose this information to their sexual partners. However you may feel about these laws, or the way they are enforced, there is a basic level of common sense to this concept. How can someone agree to having sex with someone living with HIV, if they don’t know that he is living with HIV?
This applies to other STDs as well as actions.
This is the act of either taking off a condom during sexual intercourse, poking holes in it before or even making tears in it, for the purpose of deceiving the receptive partner into believing he is having safer sex, when he is not.
The potential physical, mental and emotional damage this can do to an individual is incalculable, and the action itself is morally indefensible.
Chemistry is probably the most important factor in choosing a sexual partner. This complex mixture of physical and pheromonal attraction also includes a shared connection with sexual activities. All partners must be on the same page as to what is going to take place and to what level it will achieve.
In the world of BDSM, agreeance is where this begins. Conversations ensure that all parties consent to the terms, and “safe words” complete the verbal compact. Outside of this world, things can take a nasty turn for the worse. Physical violence and aggression, seen from the view of the “top”, is normal and fine. But, from the view of the one subjected to this treatment, it is nothing short of being violently attacked.
Phrases like “fuck me hard, rape my ass, tear my hole up, ruin me” are usually just dirty talk for most guys. No one can legally consent to being raped, as rape is an act of violence against someone’s will. But, there are guys who are too aggressive with their actions, and totally without the consent of their partners. Even ignoring his cries to stop. This isn’t sex, it’s sexual assault and battery.
We are adults, and sex is an adult activity. Because of this, we have a responsibility to ourselves to protect our physical, emotional and mental state of being. We cannot expect others to do this for us, because when we do, it is often to our detriment.
If we use the concern of HIV infection as an example, you have the responsibility to ask questions of your partners and never assume they are negative, just because they don’t tell you they are living with HIV. From this, you must decide if you believe their answer or not. This also applies to other STDs as well. Your health, is your responsibility to maintain. Not his to protect.
When the issue of consent of sexual activities is raised, we must remember the power of the word NO. If you don’t want to engage, you must speak clearly, and without hesitation. No, must always mean no. Not, maybe, or kinda.
Our drug and alcohol usage can easily be used against us. In bars and clubs there are always guys on the look out for others who cannot control their intake and are ripe for the picking. No one puts a gun to your head and forces you to ingest any substance, so know your limits and when to say “when”, it may just save you a lot of trouble in the future.
REAL WORLD APPLICATION
To some, this might seem like just another needless term to be forgotten just as soon as it is learned. But, the truth of the matter is that most people already practice some form of SCC with every sexual encounter they have.
The trick is learning to put all of these philosophies into place for each person and each encounter, Even in the heat of the moment with your next Grindr hook-up, you can take the time to ask a few basic questions to ensure you and your potential partner are on the same page and agree to the same sexual activities and outcomes.
This clears up issues of HIV/STD status, shared kinks/fetishes and even levels of sex desired. If you are a receptive partner, making these small efforts can be the difference between an enjoyable date, and a trip to hospital.
Life is about learning, growth and having experiences but there are a myriad of risks that we must navigate. Sex is an amazing experience between two (2) or more persons, but it doesn’t mean that we can or should forget everything we know about the natural world. Take care of yourself and be careful with others.