“What’s your favorite sex act?” I asked this question to about 25 different men in a bar one night, an icebreaker to begin a conversation about sexual health with men that have sex with men (MSM) in Boston. As a straight woman, talking about sexual health with gay and bisexual men can be intimidating. Why would someone so different from me be open about something as intimate as sex? To my surprise, however, I found that people enjoy talking about sex and are generally open to having a conversation about it, even with me.
“Do you brush your teeth before oral sex?,” I asked after two men said their favorite sex act was oral sex. “Did you know that brushing your teeth before oral sex can put you more at risk for contracting HIV?” One knew, one didn’t.
While some people consider HIV/AIDS, particularly in the MSM community, to be a tired topic, they would be surprised to learn to what extent the virus still impacts this community. According to a CDC study, about one out of every eight MSM in Boston is HIV-positive (Kight, Dustin). More alarmingly, nearly one in three HIV-positive MSM in Boston is unaware of his HIV status (AIDS Action Committee). In the CDC study, Boston had one of the lowest prevalence rates in the 21 metropolitan areas surveyed. Baltimore had the highest prevalence rate at 38%, or about two out of every five MSM (Kight, Dustin).
While handing out condom and lube packets in bars cannot stop the HIV/AIDS crisis, starting a conversation about it can make a big difference. The MALE Center is a drop-in center located at the corner of Columbus and Mass Ave in Boston’s South End. It conducts free rapid HIV-testing Monday-Friday and one Saturday a month, support groups, Sex Life Coaching, and hosts a number of social events, such as book clubs and movie nights. Check out the website for more information and for a calendar of events.
I’ll miss you while I’m in Nicaragua, MALE Center! Keep up the good work!