I can remember sitting in health class when I was 14, watching a video about AIDS. It was a humid 90 degrees outside, and there was no air conditioning in the building. An image of a man, no more than 100 pounds and covered in lesions, appeared on the screen, and I suddenly felt nauseated. I broke out into a sweat and watched it pool into a tiny puddle on the surface of my desk. I went to the boys’ room and stood at the sink, looking at myself in the mirror. Growing up in the ’90s, we were taught that sex equaled death. Specifically, gay sex equaled death. And to my fragile, impressionable young mind, that meant being gay equaled death, too. When you believe death and disease are your destiny, what’s to stop you from being promiscuous, doing drugs, or even taking your own life?
Of course, it gets better. And it did, at least for me. But as an adult, I encounter younger gay men who didn’t grow up seeing the things my generation saw. So much has changed in just a few short years. HIV is no longer a death sentence; it’s a “manageable condition.” And the number of gay men practicing unsafe sex, out of recklessness, complacency, or even deliberate self-injury, continues to grow. The CDC reports that infection rates among men who have sex with men, particularly blacks and Hispanics, are on the rise. READ MORE