As an author and cultural analyst, I have touched on the topic of AIDS on several occasions, before Montagnier’s interview and when the issue was really embattled. I have also been publically attacked. And certain venues have banned me. Cultural interpretation is extremely important in all areas of knowledge, including medicine. Now that more is becoming apparent about the multiple perspectives from which AIDS can be interpreted and why, it is time to pronounce myself in a clear and succinct position statement that will help others orient themselves in relation to what I know and where I stand.
In my observation, when science production is commodified for profit by the private interests of Big Pharma, what often happens is that most virologists become “of the virus party.” This literary expression implies that they may (inadvertently perhaps) start rooting for the viruses they are researching. In this case, their commitment to put humans first and protect us from harm might slip to the back of their minds. After all, if they can prove that the virus they study causes real harm, they may get the Nobel Prize. This mindset is a betrayal of the Hippocratic oath that all medical scientists are sworn to, namely “first do no harm.” Why? Because believing that one is ill can cause one to die. Medicine CAN “do harm” and that’s why the Hippocratic oath is still practiced. In Greek, the word “pharmakon” means poison. Next time you refill your meds, think about it.
(This theory is explained in “Of the Virus Party,” a wide-ranging section of my book Gaia and the New Politics of Love
Jumping to conclusions about a putative pathogen can be good to a virologist’s career. However, it is potentially harmful to humankind because human health is multifactorial and related to the emotional and physical ecology that surrounds human life.
HIV testing is the first step on this path. The reliability of the test has been seriously questioned on all counts. Furthermore, anonymous testing has been banned in countries where health care is for profit and private. It is allowed and encouraged in countries with universal heath-care systems that function well and are free of charge, including France, Italy, and many others. It would appear that as long as science cannot cure a disease, for the protection of individuals against medical error and other abuses of power, anonymous testing should be allowed. For those without access to anonymous testing in their home countries, self-test kits can be ordered from Switzerland for about $ 40. They are very easy to use at home and quite reliable. Confidential testing is only anonymous as long as there is no error or positive result.
Testing anonymously can help one feel better and safer. It can help assuage fears for oneself, one’s partners, and partners of partners. As a person who’s been med-free for over 25 years now, I have come to rely on meditation, nutrition, healthy emotional and physical environment, good connectedness with self, a fulfilling and diverse amorous life, and inner balance, rather than testing and chemical drugs. Attributing excessive significance to testing is not wise since by and large one’s health is proportional to the strength of one’s immune system rather than absence of exposure to pathogens. Erotic, amorous, sensual, and affectional expression are big factors in the health picture of everyone.
What I bring to this conversation is also my experience as participant observer in erotic communities where resources of love are shared–and therefore abundant–as in those that practice some form of polyamory and/or bisexuality. People in these communities typically have sex with a limited number of partners, sometimes simultaneously and over an extended period of time. Typically this happens with full disclosure for all involved, including disclosure of number of partners and their health status.
My wisdom is that in these contexts, some measure of safer sex is highly desirable. We live in a time when the foundations upon which human knowledge is based are shifting. Not surprisingly, people’s different understandings of STDs are not aligned enough for everyone to feel safe and comfortable otherwise. Plus, not all diseases known to the public have a standard cure.
There is a wide range of safer-sex practices, referring, in general, to superficial body fluids, like saliva, and deep body fluids, like sperm, female ejaculate, and blood. Safer sex practices can vary. Complete safety typically implies dry kissing, barriers in oral sex, and condoms in penetration. Deep-fluid only safety is also practiced, involving condoms for penetration. These two different levels of safety can be practiced by the same person with different partners, with the second one typically for more intimate and long-term partners. The practice of fluid bonding is reserved for partners with deep emotional bonding and trust. Changing levels of safety involves acceptance of such change from other involved partners.
(Some of the difficulties in educating oneself and others about these practices over several world regions are narrated in my memoir, Eros: A Journey of Multiple Loves
These are articulate degrees of protection. My experience is that they help to preserve the health and safety of a given erotic community, in which different people have different degrees of vulnerability, with–as a general tenet–more medication more vulnerability.
Some members of these erotic communities may be HIV positive, with the knowledge of their partners and respect for appropriate regimens of safety.
Perhaps when more is known about AIDS in a verifiable, scientifically concordant manner, some of these rules may change. Other STDs participants tend to be wary of are Genital Herpes and Warts. By and large, my observation is that in these communities health is proportional to good nutrition, exercise, environment, low stress level, freedom, joy, and variety in erotic, sensual, and sexual expression–not to mention meditation, yoga, and other restorative activities. It really has nothing to do with number of partners, gender of partners, frequency of sexual activity, or HIV status.
(For readers with more curiosity about how my views have been attacked and how I interpret the genesis of AIDS in relation to cultural fears of anal pleasure, I refer to The G Tales
, 1: What’s in a Word?
and 2: A Gut Feeling
My wish in expressing this pronouncement is to create more listening and understanding among all the different groups and agents that participate in cultural discourses of health, sexuality, and the arts of love. We need interpretations of what constitutes health–including holistic sexual health–that reflect the experiences of those engaged in the practice of love. My position is that when sexuality is practiced in ecological ways it is healthy. This approach to AIDS tends to assuage fears and empower people to practice love. This applies at the local and global level.
Living is and can only be safe in a world where it is safe to love.
For a live conversation with Reappraising AIDS activists, listen to my Interview with David Crowe and Celia Ferber in How Positive Are You?