On February 16th 2013, a series of articles were published in the British media regarding the findings of a study conducted by the Health Protection Agency and the University College London on HIV, that mentions among their conclusions an increase in HIV among homosexual men caused by a fall in condom use. The research paper in question was published in February 15th, 2013, and used data from 1990-2010 to demonstrate trends shown in the HIV in the United Kingdom Report 2012. This research came into light after the House of Commons approved the Marriage Bill on February 5th, and is currently on the Committee Stage .
The conservative mainstream in a desperate move and perhaps ignorance, is trying to create a link between “Gay rights and HIV increase” therefore, this article will analyse the facts and provide a non-biased insight into this situation. Conservatives fail to realize that HIV infection is a health problem, not a political problem therefore, contributing to the widespread misleading information that ultimately translates in spreading a disease by not tackling the problem in its actual context. Conservatives believe that by denying gay rights, they will control the “gay problem” and the gay diseases in relation to the widespread and dangerously mistaken belief that HIV is a “gay disease”. In any case the conservative stance was a great contributor shaping modern gay culture which will be discussed below.
The aforementioned research used computer models to recreate 130,000 simulated people, with the youngest person being -35 in 1980 (born in 2015 and will be 15 years old in 2030, when the simulation ends), and assigns specific values (obtained on “real life” years of surveys and statistics) to pre-determined variables (sexual risk behaviour in their model means short-term condom-less relationships and whether a man has a long-term condom-less partner, excluding completely from the model condom usage and long term relationships in which condoms are used).
This research is without any doubt scientific, and demonstrates the difficulties, limitations and steady progress of computer modelling in human behaviour. Alarmingly and accurately the research points out a decrease in condom use with the introduction of ART (Antiretroviral therapy for HIV); underlines that only the modest increases in condom-less sex are enough to overcome the beneficial effects of ART while highlighting the vulnerability of any new prevention initiative. However, definite assumptions as: “They found a 26% rise, from 1990-2010, in the proportion of men who had sex with men who did not use condoms” must be taken with care since in reality this figure could be higher or lower and these estimates apply only to the computer generated model. In any case, the objective of this research is to find answers to a serious health issue.
A Sociological Approach
After this brief introduction on the contents of the research it is time to analyse the subject with a sociological approach.
As the research wisely tried to begin and find the roots of the pandemic back to the 80’s, it should be appropriate to begin our sociological approach with the well-known term: “Gay Pride” which is a reaction to the conservative society that has its roots back to the early 70’s with the Stonewall Riots, that marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. The LGBT society, tired of being segregated by the mainstream society had to create its own codes, rules and demonstrate “pride” in a defensive way, not only shaped the gay culture but also the gay stereotypes today. Denying rights will in turn create more opposition.
HIV and Gay Culture
Unfortunately and as mentioned above, the widespread myth that HIV is a gay disease is still haunting society and healthcare providers. Yet if HIV is not an exclusively gay disease, why are homosexuals still in more danger? This is the question that has been tried to be answered by different approaches. In the sociological approach, again this takes us back to the gay culture. Homosexuals in previous decades would never attempt to form a lasting relationship with a partner due to the expectation of society to get married and have children and due to the conservative stance and discrimination they would face if they tried to have a stable relationship with a same sex partner. This hostile environment left no option but the creation of an “underground scene” in which one night stands with different sexual partners and promiscuity were the only option. This is the legacy of denying legitimate rights to gay people so that they live without fear, discrimination and possibility to commit to a long term relationship with a partner. After the HIV was identified back in 1981, several efforts were made within the LGBT community in order to create awareness on the virus; additionally safe sex practices were introduced. It is worth mentioning since it will be analysed below that some of the attempts included the participation of the porn industry.
A Matter of Demographics
After the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK (England and Wales in 1967, Scotland in 1981 and Northern Ireland in 1982) and the introduction of Civil Partnerships in 2005, one can conclude that the LGBT rights movement rapidly gained terrain; however, the changes were slow enough to leave generations on a “limbo” between legislations. The benefits of the Civil Partnership legislation despite being available to everyone leave open a series of questions that can be answered only by demographic studies:
1) The “Old” generation of LGBT people.
What happened to the generation that saw the rise of the HIV without antiretroviral therapy? What are their expectations today? What changes were implemented in sex safe practices? Empirically it is known that many LGBT individuals before the legislation formed a heterosexual relations which most ended up in breaking up, what are their expectations for their new life? After the introduction of Civil Partnerships, some couples took advantage of the new legislation, some people might have taken advantage and form stable relationships with their partners but not forming civil partnerships due to pension and benefits issues. Some others will remain old school “club sceners” for the rest of their life without interest in commitment since they “grew up like that”.
2) The new generation of LGBT and Heterosexual people.
What are their views on marriage? The most appropriate age of commitment? The sex education they are receiving? The quality of information they have available or whether they realize importance of prevention in health. And most importantly: Why are they failing to keep and improve the safe-sex practices implemented by the previous generations?
In any case, according to the present discussion even with the recent introduction of the Civil Partnerships in 2005 there should be a decrease on HIV infections. Again, it is a matter that should be address with demographics; an example is that contrary to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s belief that “”, homosexuality is inherent to human sexual behaviour and homosexuals come in all races, colours, religious backgrounds and nationalities. The influx of immigration that the United Kingdom has been facing, especially after the EU enlargement in 2004, focused mainly in the sustainability of the work market leaving gaps on health and education. The Western sexual education comes in contradiction with the flawed and sometimes inexistent sexual education in Eastern Europe, the Arab world, Africa, India and Pakistan. Most of the immigrants in the United Kingdom come from conservative and religious societies where gay rights are out of the discussion; for example Uganda or even Poland, a European and generally ‘catholic country’ that will follow the Pope condemning the use of condoms. When LGBT people that come from such countries come to a free country in which they can express themselves without fear, but at the same time lack of the basic sexual education this will translate into a problem to be addressed in the host country.
I would like to mention that I am not blaming immigration as the cause of HIV raise in the United Kingdom, but only underlining a fact that should be addressed in the cultural assimilation process, in any case, the large majority (>80%) of HIV diagnosis in the UK will have acquired their infection in the country.
Porn Industry Crisis
Finally, another cause that should be analysed and does not belong to the realm of demographics but that could be a contributor to the HIV problem, not just in the UK but worldwide is the porn industry crisis. With the rise of the internet, the availability of instant and free porn raised exponentially. Before internet porn, the porn industry was used to promote safe sex practice, however, after the rise of internet porn in which literally anyone can upload any home-made sex film, this promotion of safe-sex was undermined to the extent that in order to sell a few more films, the porn industry is now against using condoms on their sex films. Unfortunately, internet porn is widely available worldwide including the aforementioned countries. From personal experience in the Arab world it is considered “a man thing” to share downloaded porn on your mobile with fellow men. This is such a widespread practice that I tend to suspect that internet porn could be partially to blame on the gang rapes in India and the degradation of women as sexual objects. Despite the parliamentary attempts on censorship, only increased sexual education will decrease the HIV infection not only in the UK but wordwide.
In Conclusion, Gay rights are not to blame for the HIV increase in the UK, but a flawed sexual education among the British born population in addition to a lack of sexual education among immigrants, predominantly the African born, vulnerable members of the society and people in extreme poverty have also seen a raise in HIV. This problem is exacerbated by religious groups and the Catholic church in particular, as well as conservatives in their attempt to control human sexuality by denying sexual rights, forbidding the use of condoms and undermining the LGBT rights, promoting a hostile environment that affects the ability of LGBT people to form stable relationships without fear and discrimination, relationships that prevent (or reduce to the heterosexual norm) the incidence of promiscuous behaviour. It is undeniable that same-sex marriage does not have the power to stop the HIV pandemic, but prevention, sexual education and safe-sex practices are essential in its reduction.
The question here is not whether LGBT rights will be achieved – this is a timely process – the question is when will this happen? In an ideal society civil rights should never find opposition and the best we can do as a society is to facilitate that transition, instead of ignoring the pink elephant in the room and making excuses against equality, democracy and freedom.
For more articles by Javier Betancourt see here.