In the current cultural climate, critiquing the alleged ‘privilege’ various people possess as a means of judging the legitimacy of their values and behaviours is commonplace. For example, consider this common scenario. Many straight men expect to have unprotected sex with women without caring about contraception (which they view as women’s responsibility) and without suffering any negative consequences (such as an unwanted pregnancy). This is an example of heterosexual male privilege and it is rightly challenged.
I’m straight and I take responsibility for contraception by using condoms. I think it must be amazing to have sex without worrying about the legal, ethical and financial consequences of unintended conception. I’ve never had access to that. The ability of gay men to have sex without worrying about conception makes me envious. Access to sex without procreation can be considered example of queer privilege.
There is a big difference in the values about safe sex in straight and gay cultures. There’s no debate about safe sex in straight culture. There’s obviously a gulf between theory and practice, but straight men are expected to be aware of the risks and use condoms. Straight male privilege is being challenged by feminists, and men’s historical sense of entitlement about access to sex (particularly about access to women’s bodies) is being dismantled.
As a straight man I have observed the recent debate in gay culture about PrEP with a sense of disbelief. Used as a defense against the spread of HIV (the biggest risk gay men face in sex), it is argued that PrEP consequently encourages risky condomless sex (which exposes men to other STIs). Many gay men seem to have a massive sense of entitlement about accessing sex (particularly about penetrative sex without condoms). In the articles I’ve read one words has appeared repeatedly: deserve.
Queer activists say that straight people don’t and can’t understand them. I say the understanding gap, based on different lived experiences, works both ways. This quote, for example, is ridiculous: ‘the difference between giving men condoms and giving them PrEP is the difference between giving women condoms and giving them hormonal birth control — contraceptive pills and IUDs aren’t considered contentious on the basis that women using them might get gonorrhea‘. No. Avoiding conception and avoiding diseases are not the same thing.
Unsurprisingly, gay men seem to have no idea about the responsibility involved in straight sex: ‘The thing about condom-less sex is that the expectation is not there that heterosexuals in long-term relationships are expected to wear condoms all of the time, so it’s unfair to have that attitude of ‘just take personal responsibility and always wear condoms’ towards gay men. If I want to be able to let go and have completely liberated sex with a long-term partner then I deserve that.‘ Actually, no. If your female partner does not like the pill or other hormonal methods of contraception, it is common for straight men to use condoms in long-term relationships.
Gay men whinge about using condoms in a way that I find ludicrous and petulant: ‘there’s always been a weakness in the HIV prevention tools we have, especially for guys who have sustained difficulties around condom usage. For me, what’s so powerful about PrEP is that it offers guys another way to protect themselves if they’re struggling with using condoms‘. Difficulties? Struggling? They cost about 50 cents each. You roll it on, apply a bit of lube, then fuck. It’s really not difficult.
In yet another example, two gay men are having unprotected sex and one thinks ‘I want this experience. I deserve this.‘ No, you don’t. You may want it, but no one deserves anything when it comes to sex. PrEP is very expensive, and gay men want it subsidised by government health systems to make it cheaper and more accessible. They argue that ‘We don’t deserve special treatment just because we’re gay. We deserve special treatment, used literally, because the risk is higher.‘ But risk is not a static external factor to be responded to. Risk is variable. Risk is chosen.
Common sense suggests, for example, that if you don’t want to get sunburn when out in the sun you should wear a hat and sunscreen. If you don’t want to get hit by a car as you walk across the road, look both ways and wait until it’s safe. Nonetheless personal responsibility is radically out of fashion. Why take responsibility for yourself when you can claim victimhood status and expect the world to fix your problems for you?
Apparently what’s considered normal these days is being able to drive a car dangerously fast at night with your lights off trying to evade police. When you die in an inevitable accident your relatives feel justified in blaming the police and demanding the law changes to prevent the police from chasing criminals in case the criminals hurt or kill themselves trying to escape. If you think this sounds stupid, it’s because it is. So is having risky sex and expecting to suffer no consequences.
This is not about morality. This is not sex shaming. This is common sense. It doesn’t matter what gay men think they deserve, or what deluded privilege they claim. If you want to have sex with multiple partners and continue to do so, protect yourself from catching a disease that will make you less sexually attractive and thus inhibit your future sex life. It’s what straight men have to do. It’s what all men have to do.
Rational self interest seems logical but many people engage in irrational, illogical self-destructive behaviour, then passively-aggressively blame society for their self-caused problems. If the problem is obvious and the solution is simple, there should be no sympathy given for the negative consequences of your voluntary self-destructive stupidity. We are animals and, despite our science and technology, we are yet to transcend our biology.