JUNE 17, 2013 6:43PM

One nagging thing about the gay community and Slut Shaming

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Every time Gay Pride rolls around, a few people give voice to an ongoing debate that the whole event celebrates promiscuity and harms our community. Sometimes their arguments are shrill (“Muscled go-go boys shaking their booties!”) and sometimes they’re exaggerated (gay people didn’t cost John Kerry the election). Eventually they’re all written off as “slut-shaming” homophobes.

But here’s the nagging thing I can’t shake: they’re still right.

Not about the go-go boys or the elections, of course. They’re right about the potential damage caused by promiscuity. Sometime after adopting the “tolerance” message in our fight for equality, we forgot that some things are objectively harmful. And we didn’t say anything, because we didn’t want to seem intolerant.

Aren’t we doing a bigger disservice to our community by propagating (or, through silence, tacitly endorsing) the idea that there’s nothing dangerous about promiscuity?

It’s discussed a little bit. We see safe sex ads and support for comprehensive sex education. But once you get into the territory of “promiscuity can have adverse physical and emotional effects,” the sky falls in. Some people hear the words “monogamy” or “chastity” and immediately denounce “hetero-normativity,” while paradoxically citing lasciviousness among heterosexuals as proof that having sex with lots of different people is okay.

Maybe it’s time to talk about this without blowing it out of proportion.

Some caveats:

This isn’t about slut-shaming. It’s not about shame, period. Shame leads to secrecy, and self-loathing, and even suicide. We all have our moral principles, and we’re entitled to them, but that’s not what this argument is about.

This isn’t about chastising anyone. Plenty of people – straight and gay – take all the available literature into account before making the conscious choice to have a lot of sexual partners, and no one is questioning their right to do so.

This isn’t the typical rant against modern relationships and unmarried people, which are always accompanied by a screencap from Sex and the City and a tirade that threatens the end of marriage / religion / civilization / the 1950s.

Just so we’re clear.

My issue is that there is a collective cringe from the gay community whenever a new report alleges that there are health risks inherent to promiscuous sexual behavior. Knee-jerk reactions end up clouding the issue, or worse, obscuring it from the very youth that we work so hard to advocate for.

And the reports are pretty serious.

As a nation, we’re creating new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) faster than we’re creating new jobs or college graduates. And most of those STIs are springing up in the 15-24 age bracket. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that these infections cost the U.S. roughly $16 billion every year.

There are emotional and psychological risks, too, including increased likelihood of depression, addictive behavior, and ineffective relationships.

It’s worth pointing out that similar arguments have been used in recent history to marginalize, subjugate, condemn, and restrict the LGBT community, as well as dozens of other minorities, by the kinds of religious hysterics you usually see on TV, asking for money. I don’t know if you believe in Hell, but they do, and if it’s real, those people will probably be working the shoe rental.

They also use facts like the ones from the CDC to assert that certain people and groups are by nature “unhealthy,” and that anyone who gets an STD deserves it. Of course that’s ridiculous. AIDS is a big issue in the gay community, but it’s also present in the black community, the third world, and among every other group whose healthcare needs have been systematically ignored for decades. No one deserves an STD any more than I deserve to catch a cold when I touch a door handle, or get a stomach virus after eating at Arby’s.

But don’t we recommend that people avoid risky actions?

Why does the gay community treat this as a black-and-white, tolerant vs. slut-shaming, overly simplistic issue?

When obesity becomes an epidemic, we’re willing to confront the problem in ways that don’t shame overweight people or exploit negative body image. When heroin use increases, we fight for treatment centers just as passionately as we do for needle exchanges. We know the difference between marijuana and crack/cocaine, between gun rights and unregulated lunacy.

The Global Fund supports HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs in 151 countries; they focus those programs on abstinence and marital faithfulness. And they provide condoms, too. They know from their own research what works – just like in the U.S., abstinence-only education fails to prevent STIs, but abstinence messaging can still be empowering and liberating to those at risk.

This brings me back to Gay Pride, and our collective obsession with no one telling us who we can sleep with. I get it: for decades we were taught to ignore a basic human instinct to love and become intimate with someone of the same gender. We don’t want to go back to that. But there are plenty of human impulses that are still worth resisting – like becoming intimate with everyone of the same gender.

Yes, there are loathsome, obnoxious, and shrill people who share this view about monogamy and abstinence. They often sound homophobic, prudish or sermonizing.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t right.

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