On shame, self-respect, and The Thing we don't talk about. OR: How to own a mistake, and turn it into a lesson instead. 



I hooked up with a student a while back. There’s a halls of residence near my flat, which is fun. I toyed with the idea of seeing how many different boys from that halls I could snog, but I’m getting on a bit and it’s starting to seem creepy. Anyway.

Besides which, 20-year olds are SO DULL. They have nothing to talk about except for themselves. Which, as I say that, I realise where I am and what I’m doing, and maybe I shouldn’t throw stones. Moving on.

The second time I met this particular student, we were getting a bit sexy and he asked me not to use a condom. I refused on several grounds, not least of which being this was only the second time we’d met. He got quite insistent about it, and eventually I had to say “If you mention it again, I will send you home.”

Which shut him up, luckily. Because I did want to have sex with him, but wouldn’t have hesitated to kick him out, if he pushed it.

I was planning on using this as the intro to a story on sexual confidence, and respecting other people’s wishes and y’know, basic shit like that, but then there was an article recently in one of the gay magazines, talking about how the writer had made a bad decision when he was horny and had sex with someone without a condom.

We’ve all been there, I guess. If I wrote something every time I made a bad decision, I’d be… Oh. Sitting right here, talking to myself in a cupboard. Anyway.

The best bit about the whole article was the headline that said “We make stupid decisions when we’re horny” as if this was some huge revelation, and not something we’ve all known since we were about twelve years old.

THIS JUST IN: Thinking with your dick rarely ends well. We’ll have more on this story as it develops. In other news, the sky is blue, we’re all going to die, and your mum gives blowies to bin men.

The writer had done his best to explain how there’s no shame in making a bad decision in the heat of the moment, and that’s all true, and luckily for him, things had all turned out fine, no nasty diseases, blah blah.

The tone of the whole article was “We all make mistakes, AND THAT’S OK! Nothing to be ashamed of!” Except that, at the bottom in a little editor’s note, were the words “All names have been changed.” and since the only name used at all throughout the article was his, he kinda undermined his own point a bit.

It’s like saying “There’s nothing wrong with being into fisting. I’m NOT. Definitely not. No, no no! But, my FRIEND is, and that’s ok. But I’m not. Incidentally, has anyone seen my watch?”

When it comes to stuff like this, you can internalise the guilt and shame and pretend you’re not feeling it by adopting a falsely non-judgemental position, and then post-rationalise your actions, explain it all away rationally, like when you HAVE to eat a whole cake, because if you leave any behind, it might get lonely. Y’know, picking an idea totally at random. God, I love cake. But all the cake in the world isn’t going to change that feeling that descends once you’ve calmed down a bit.

Y’see, if you want to get rid of the shame, like that writer was trying to do, in a confused way, as if Attitude Magazine was his own personal blog, you can’t do it anonymously. You have to own it. Like this:

Yes, I’ve had unprotected sex. I imagine most people I know have. Usually for no better reason than “I was very horny and really really wanted to”.

And it felt good. I’m not going to pretend otherwise in an attempt to moralise, because it did feel good. Almost as if our bodies had been designed to enjoy the sensation, over millions of years of evolution, for example.

But, before we go any further, let me clarify: It felt good for the ten minutes or so that it was happening. I was going to make some joke there about the amount of time, but this is real talk, so let’s get real. Ten minutes is probably a bit generous. Anyway.

After it had happened, and for the weeks following it, as I worked out the earliest date I could go for a test where an infection might show up, it felt less good. Considerably less good. I would even go so far as to say, not good at all. To the point of not sleeping properly, because I couldn’t help but think that, as I lie there, worrying myself through the night, that HIV could be slowly but unstoppably growing inside of my body.

And I had no-one to blame, I couldn’t say I didn’t know better, or I’d been coerced, or we’d tried to use a condom and it had broken, or any of those little lies we tell ourselves to rewrite history in our own heads…

This one was all me. Whatever the consequences, I had brought them on myself, fully aware of the possibility of ending up with something nasty, and possibly incurable.

And there’s the thing - ten minutes, ok, maybe five, if I’m being honest, of great-feeling sex, followed by two months of anxiety, little sleep and generalised worry that I might have just given myself a lifelong illness. That’s not a great trade-off, and one I decided I didn’t want to have go through again.

And once I learned to own my actions, the shame starts to fade, because it’s not a ‘mistake’ any more, but a lesson I’ve learned from, something I’ve used it to help shape future decisions. So I use the memory of the fear and the worry and all of that to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I learnt to respect myself, basically. Respect myself enough to do my best not to get into that situation again in the future, do my best to not get too caught up in the moment that I’m tempted to ‘forget’ to use one, because it’s just plain not worth it in the long run.

And even if we put the risk of getting an infection to one side, there’s another horrible risk, that’s much more likely when it comes to bum fun. You know what I’m talking about. The messy thing. The thing that we pretend never happens. The thing that might mean changing the sheets in the middle of the night. The thing that’s pretty much an occupational hazard, but that we talk about even less… Shit happens, I suppose.

So, I can sit here naked as usual and tell you not to have unprotected sex, but I doubt it would have any effect at all on your behaviour when you’re feeling frisky. Because I knew all that stuff and did it anyway, so instead you get this explanation of how to use an experience as a lesson. Such fun.

I haven’t seen that student I mentioned again since we hooked up that time. I think it might have had to do with how things went after the sextytimes.

He said, “That was really great!” I replied with “Yeah, I really enjoyed it too” “The only thing that would have been better was if it was bare.” “Get out.”