The HIV Experience

The HIV Experience

After over twenty years at the baths, I’ve educated myself on the boundaries of safe sex and sexually transmitted infections. In particular, HIV and AIDS, as I have two close friends who live with HIV. Both have been living with this disease for over a decade.

I know this is a cliche, but remember, for every man you sleep with, you are also sleeping with his past sexual conquests. Many men with HIV do not disclose this information to a prospective hook-up, especially in a bathhouse. If nothing unsafe happens, why mention it? With the “U Equals U” campaign, there is even more reason not to disclose one’s status. For those who don’t know what “U Equals U” is. It stands for “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable.” If a person’s HIV viral load is undetectable, they cannot sexually transmit the virus to someone else.

Then you have PRep (pre-exposure prophylaxis) for men who are HIV-negative. Men take this medication to lower their risk of HIV infection when having sex. Outside of that, you also have guys who don’t care if they are infected with HIV. These are men who have unprotected sex in the hopes of getting HIV. They are called bug chasers and want to get infected to be part of an exclusive club. In some gay circles, it is fashionable to be HIV positive, as this is no longer a death sentence. But a mark of pride.

Many HIV-positive men sport a Biohazard Tattoo to inform everyone they are HIV Positive and aren’t ashamed. So if you see a guy walking the bathhouse halls sporting a Biohazard Tattoo, you instantly know his status.

With all the new drugs on the market, many men feel safe having unprotected sex with other younger guys. Many gay men view these drugs (WRONGLY) as living an everyday life with HIV and AIDS, the same way people live with diabetes. Finally, there is a feeling of fatigue. They are tired of being safe, using protection, and continuously thinking about safe sex. These younger gay men want SEX: the natural feeling of being inside someone, pure skin-to-skin contact.

It would not surprise me if 75% of the guys walking the halls of a bathhouse had HIV. These men know they are HIV Positive, and a handful is on disability insurance. Because a disability check barely covers the essentials in life, going to any place to mix and mingle with other gay men is expensive. Many positive men on LTD (long-term disability) go to the baths at noon, when most have a reduced rate. The rates vary from sauna to sauna, but $12.00 is a special price during lunch at my bathhouse.

At that rate, men on disability can escape from their problems, albeit temporarily, for 6 hours. They can cruise, enjoy eye candy, and get laid like everyone else. Being on disability might sound like a fabulous permanent vacation, but it gets boring. You had school or a career as the center of your universe for your whole life. You test positive for HIV, and while most men can go on to live their everyday lives, some cannot. Either they cannot find employment or become susceptible to a recurring illness connected to their HIV status. Either way, they qualify for disability, and a huge weight lifts off their shoulders. But soon, these men realize the world is passing them by. With friends at work, men on disability have to find things to occupy their time during the day. As a result, the baths become a part of their daily life to have some structure. Most men on disability go to the baths at the beginning or end of every month. That is when their check comes in the mail.

However, the rest of the men going to the baths might not even know their status. Health issues are not at the top of the list for most gay men. So many men don’t even go for a yearly check-up. However, HIV infections are increasing alarmingly, especially among young men. In the past, many gay men got HIV by accident (condom breaking) or by slipping up (not thinking in the heat of the moment). In junior high school decades ago, there was a bombardment of safe sex and AIDS literature. That is not happening now. As a result, so many young gay men are lax in their safe sex practices. Coming out as a gay man can be a period of great upheaval. Already suffering from low self-esteem, we want to fit in and find a companion. On that search, it may reduce motivation for safe sex as a gay man might do anything to satisfy a potential boyfriend. Age is another factor. Many young gay men perceive AIDS as a disease of older men. As a result, men ages twenty or thirty have not had many dealing with end-stage AIDS patients or even people living with HIV.

To their credit, bathhouses have continued to promote and educate their clientele about safe sex, HIV, and AIDS. Go to any bathhouse in America, and this is what you will see:

AIDS and safe sex posters on the walls.
Condoms and lube are readily available at the front desk and lounge.
Porn films where condoms are featured.

There is even an area with AIDS education pamphlets and materials at the baths. Volunteer healthcare workers visit the baths every month to educate the community. It is a great way to reach out directly and educate gay men about their sexual practices. From anonymous AIDS and STD testing (right there at the baths!) to discussions about safe sex, the healthcare workers are there not to preach or be judgmental but to educate. It attempts to promote safe sex to the younger generation at the baths.

But unfortunately, many younger gay men still do not get it. I cannot tell you how much barebacking goes on at the baths (especially in the darkroom). Hence the continued HIV and AIDS outreach program at the baths. Even outside the baths, there is a blasé attitude about safe sex. For instance, in my city, we have an AIDS memorial down the street from one of the most popular gay bars. Every year on World AIDS Day, there is a candlelight vigil. New names are added during the memorial for those who have died of AIDS. Besides that day, the AIDS memorial is better known in gay circles as the best place to have park sex. If two guys meet at the bar and want to have a quickie, they trot down to the memorial. There are trees, shrubbery, and other camouflage that surround the shrine. The monument features benches, nooks, and corners, perfect for that discreet quickie encounter. It is not unusual to pass by the AIDS memorial at 2 AM and see scores of young guys going at it. Most of the time, you will see guys leaning against the AIDS memorial getting blown while others are sprawled atop a nearby picnic table getting fucked. That is how unaffected and complacent younger gay men are about HIV and AIDS.

Many older gay men are disgusted and sickened by the thought of younger gay men having sex at the AIDS memorial. They consider it in poor taste and an insult to the memory of those who have died of AIDS. The younger generation counters the outrage by saying they honor those men by having sex at the memorial. These men died from AIDS from having unsafe sex. Having sex at the AIDS memorial is a re-generation of their lives, almost like a re-birth. These men died of AIDS, and now the younger generation is having sex in their memory. It is completing a circle of life, thus bringing closure.

So should the risk of being infected with HIV concern you? Check what healthcare coverage you have, even if you lose your job. See what you are entitled to, then decide. As living with HIV is not cheap.

19 thoughts on “The HIV Experience”

  1. You were too congenial. Your own comfort should always have preference over not wanting to hurt another person’s feelings. I think in Oriental culture there is a too great emphasis on appeasing others, to the point of going against your own will. That said, I’m white, and I have often remained kind and didn’t want to offend the other, whilst I really wanted to get away from that person, in reality. The baths are great at educating you to be “harder” and acting according to your true feelings. All those “stars” that walk with their nose up in the air rejecting 99 percent of other punters seem very loathsome, but their approach can be quite educational for those who are too compaisant.

  2. I appreciated your sensitive handling of the situation you were in. I don’t know that your assessment of who goes to the baths during the day is as sensitive. You have actually studied this?

  3. Hi, I ran across your blog and thank you for all of your thoughts and insights. I’ve been in two long term relationships; one was 10 year, the other 8 years. I’m 49 years old now, so I guess I’m one of the “older gays”. I’ve been going to a local bath house since 2005….I can’t believe it’s been 5 years. Each time I go, I convince myself it’s the last, but it isn’t. I’ve met some nice guys there and at all hours of the day. Lately I’ve been going very late; midnight to 5 am ! That’s difficult for me as I work 9-5. Most of the time, I’m too tired (or have had too many glasses of wine) to appreciate all that there is to offer. In fact most frequently, I go and hook up with guys and they get off and I don’t…I’m generally a top and I’ve had unsafe sex at least a half dozen times. I fuck young men who are horny, probably drugged up out of their minds and willing to take me inside of them without protection. This goes against everything I’ve come to know in the 80’s and 90’s and yet, here I am….fucking young boys bareback. I’ve continued to test HIV negative (as of January 2011) and will get an HIV test next week (March 2011) as I’ve just fucked two boys bareback at the beginning of February. This is the last time I’ll do this…..I think it’s the 3rd or 4th time I’ve told myself this. There’s something about the combination of this bathhouse and a couple glasses of good wine….I really do miss the intimacy and connection that’s found within a relationship. It’s something I’m capable of, but something I’ve stayed away from; I’ve been burned twice and I’m reluctant to engage again because of my fear of separation….again. I guess what I appreciate most about your comments is that I can relate to almost all that you discuss; especially as it relates to responsibility and safe sex. I can’t believe that I have engaged in unsafe behavior. I know better….I lived through the AIDS crisis and survived. I’m still here and want to be for a long time. I want to smarten up and remember what it was like back then and protect the gift of good health that I have with everything I’ve got. Moreover, I want to go to a bathhouse and experience my sexuality safely and responsibly. Thanks for the narrative !

  4. Thanks for such vivid account of bathhouse life. It would be good education for all if you could include a section on STD (not just AIDS) and what you do to minimize the risks. Also, it would be interesting to share your experience of bathhouses in other countries such as Japan etc etc.

  5. I am an American who lives mostly in Europe. I’m 22 and have been raised very sheltered. I have been in gay saunas in London, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Vienna, Budapest,Paris, and Brussels, but I still have a question (I’m sure it’s very silly). I really enjoy hot tub interaction and I am wondering if HIV/std-enacted sperm is dangerous in water. This is probably a very stupid question but I would like to know your opinion about it.

  6. I VERY MUCH want to go to the bath houses near me, but I am concerned about HIV. I’d like to blow a guy and bottom, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk especially after the comment in one story that as many as 75% of men there may have HIV and they won’t tell you. Anyone have any advice for me?

  7. I enjoy reading your work on bath houses. I’d like to see more about STD’s. Lots of guys have warts and other types of STD’s.

  8. I’m happy that I came across this website and the stories about those that frequent the bath houses. I was introduced to a bath house in San Diego around 1994 when a trick I picked up at a truck rest stop told me about the Vulcan in San Diego. I had been married to my high school sweetheart over 25 years and with AIDS outbreak I convinced myself I had to come out of hiding because I didn’t want to spread the HIV virus to my wife in the event I got it from a man that I had quick sex with. After I found the Vulcan I went there every chance I got. I came out to my wife and family in 1994 and was divorced that same year. I went wild after that but most of my sexual encounters were at the Vulcan bath house and hustlers I’d pickup in Oceanside, CA. I wasn’t into anal sex although I was very curious.

    I finally contracted HIV virus and in 1996 came down with full blown AIDS September 23, 1996. My viral load went off the charts; I was admitted with pneumonia twice. I wasted to 118lbs with t-cells down to 128. I almost died. I then entered a hospice and was waiting to die when finally the protease inhibitors save my life and began again in 1997 to live with AIDS and a Gay Man in his 50’s. Today I’m at peace with myself. Living with myself and as happy as a Gay Man can be without a mate to share my life with or even Family that have disowned me almost completely. I am hopeful that before I die a homosexual will be accepted in society. To date I don’t see that happening.

    Thank You for your stories about Bathhouses. All of what I’ve read so far is very correct and insightful.

  9. I would like to ask your opinion about ‘bug chasers’. I would like to do some research on these men and if possible maybe get a grant in finding why they want to do this to themselves. (I hope you know what bug chasers are. If you don’t email me back and I can send one of the very few links I have as well as some research that’s out there about these men.) So, I would like to chat with you some more if you are inclined about bug chasers and more ;-). Thanks, S

  10. I love your site. It’s so true! I’ve been going to the baths for 4 years now. Are you still HIV-? (It sounds like you have played it safe based on what I read. Also, I don’t think you had a topic about STD’s. (other than HIV) The one thing that worried me about the baths was the one time I got pubic lice (crabs). That was so gross, but I still continue to go to the baths. I will check your site in the future for more stories. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I am 19 and really want to go to a bathhouse, but am too worried about the chance of getting something. I know that I could control my actions, and I would probably just hang out in the sauna and the whirlpool. But can I catch something in the whirlpool or any other water element. If a guy cums in there, and I am sitting in the water–can I catch something? Thanks for your help.

  12. I have only been to a bathhouse a couple of times since testing HIV+ in 1997. Both of those times, I merely observed, then wanked off in my room alone. Prior to this, I was a semi-regular at Dallas’ “The Club.” In fact, in the early ’90’s I attended an aerobics class at that facility three times a week. During that period, I must have had sexual contact with at least 100 men at “The Club.” However, also during that time, I don’t think I did anything anal. In fact, I know that I contracted HIV not from a “trick” at the bathhouse, but from a neighbor at my apartment complex out in the suburbs.

  13. I enjoy reading your almost all of your stories. I have question …? some one told me that ….you can get HIV if u go stay in the bath…. Because the water is not clean. many men they jerk off in the water. well I don’t how true is that. but…..its kind of risky.

  14. Why do HIV Negative men go to Bathhouses “KNOWING THE RISK” that is involved there? I am sorry, but you are such superficial, greedy, unrealistic asshole. Its like you have to be included in everything, even this. Its like what’s going on today with these bio-threats. Why would I want to put myself in unnecessary danger by going to the post office, or opening unfamiliar mail address to me. Why take the risk? Did you forget already the first AIDS posters from the 80s that a man can look health in the light but it doesn’t mean he is not HIV. So, if your in a darkroom and don’t feel a genital wart does that mean he not HIV? That was some stupid shit you said in one of your stories. I think HIV- guys are very selfish and full of BS, you want to have it both ways the possibility of a relationship and anonymous sex. Bathhouses are what they are quick, consensual, anonymous sex. Nothing more nothing less and it all involves “RISK”. So, again why put yourself in that position at all. Leave the Bathhouse to HIV positive guys, and I bet a lot of the attitude and issues will go away. My one wish in this century is that HIV infection rate goes away and I know this can happen if there is no new cases. That mean if all HIV- guys would stop going to the Bathhouse. You would not have to worry about practicing safe sex if you just open up your mouth and ask the guy if he has been at risk in pass life and get tested. But, some many men are quick to jump in bed now and ask questions later. That’s risk. What are you gonna miss out on? It should be not becoming HIV. Just take a minute and think about it, am I really missing out on anything by engaging in anonymous quick sex? How long can I prolong my life, by not engaging in that type of behavior in that atmosphere? If your gonna have concern about contacting some type of STD, then again I say to you, Why go to a Bathhouse where this stuff breeds? Do not put yourself at Risk at all. Stay out of the Bathhouse.

    1. Why does the responsibility of disclosing status always relies on the person that is HIV? Both parties owes a since of responsibility somebody else.”

      But, as I said before, If your HIV negative then why put yourself in those situation at all? I read your story about Rejection. How do you think men that are HIV+ feel. Bathhouse is the perfect place for these types of men to be to express themselves with consenting adults. Does HIV- people own the market on bathhouse sex or one night stands? It is HIV- people that need to rethink their priority in life. Is it important to you to express yourself sexually? or work toward a fulfilling and meaning relationship with someone? Once again, you want it both ways. You have the possibility of an un judge life from society , we don’t, so let us have the one thing that sustains us in remainder of our life. Most HIV+ guys have lost the desire to seek a relationship, because of the fear of rejection, so the Bathhouse is an outlet for them with a secure comfort zone that there in a place with men just like them. In my whole 11 years in attending bathhouses from New York to LA to Montreal, Canada to Rome, Italy and Amsterdam. I have been only asked my status 3 times. The general consensus is that the majority of patrons at bathhouse these days are HIV+ and it should be. HIV+ and bathhouse sex goes hand in hand. Its just like a Queen in a Gay Pride Parade. So, I say to you, why take the risk? My God if you have been fortunate enough not to be infected in the 20 years of this disease, then its most not be that important to you if you continue to patronize bathhouse for sex and pseudo intimacy.

      Oral and rimming. I don’t know where your getting your information from. But, you need to research it again. Also, do you believe everything the CDC and federal government tells you about HIV transmission. Your so quick to believe them about the infection rate amongst minority. But did you ever think that with all the information disseminated about AIDS over the recent 10 by now the infection rate should have gone down some. No, its still climbing because, people like you believe what ever the CDC tell them about transmission risk is right. Yes, you can become infected by kissing, oral, and rimming. Its does not take a big gaping hole or 555 guys to be infected. Just a micro and a one nightstand. So, if you have concerns and is worried about status disclosure when your in a bathhouse, then why are you putting yourself in that situation? I live by this creeds, ” Everything is Not Meant for Everybody” and “You can’t be Everything to Everybody” I pray that you never become infected but, at the present time like most guys like you. You will, because your priority aren’t right.

    2. First of all you don’t catch AIDS its HIV, dear. Anyone who has ever tried giving blood will know that South Africans are considered at the most high risk .

      You’re full of crap, I cant even be bothered wasting my time responding to your immature drivel. Hopefully eveyone else will ignore your moans and groans and see that everything you describe has nothing to do with race but can be about every sort of person.

      I am a white British male and I burp , pick my nose, fart and often act like a caveman. Some people would say this is masculine behavior!

      Even if everything you describe is true about Asians , then so what ? Why do you feel so much hatred. It is normal to hate evil people such as pedophiles, rapists and murderers, but hating people because they dance in a circle?????????

      Get a life you sad excuse for a man.

  15. CONGRATULATIONS! I am so happy that you are disease free and that you took control of your own body. Wow, you seem like a dream come true, except that you don’t like older men. Now that I am 58 I often have to take Viagra in order to penetrate someone. The exception is an ex-boyfriend that I still have sex with. I guess I feel so relaxed with him that I can keep it up long enough to fuck him. But I don’t really like to take Viagra, since I can get sexual pleasure from long make-out sessions, mutual masturbation, and just rubbing my dick against my partner, or giving each other mutual blow jobs with a condom always. But there are many guys who want to be fucked and will drop you if you cannot fuck him. I can often fuck him without a condom, but by the time I get the condom on, get it lubricated, and begin the process of entering him, I do not stay hard enough to do it. There goes a potential boyfriend. But you give me hope that there are guys out there who don’t want to be penetrated. Who will accept affection, lots of kissing and rubbing. I do have a friend like that in Mexico, but I only get to visit him twice a year.

  16. I found out 3 years ago that I was HIV+. I was young, good looking (Model) very active. I feel people need to protect themselves and not rely on others to do it. After all they are the one that stands to loose. That being said, I ALWAYS tell about my status before any non-safe or low risk sex. Mostly because I wish someone had told me, although I don’t blame anyone. I usually won’t have sex with HIV- people. HIV stops with me.

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