Click to read Ephesians 6:10-18
| Print |
We recommend "Landscape" print layout.

Biblical Code Versus the Condom Code


By Carman Bradley

Thou shalt not lie with man, as with woman: it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)  If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (20:13)

The homosexual practices cited in Romans 1:24-27 were believed to result from idolatry and are associated with some very serious offenses as noted in Romans 1.  Taken in this larger context, it should be obvious that such acts are significantly different than loving, responsible lesbian and gay relationships seen today.[i]

Troy Perry, Metropolitan Community Church founder

Rev. William R. Johnson contends that many lesbian and gay “Christians” are today engaged in the process of growing toward a new understanding of themselves as spiritual persons.  He writes:

For most of us, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) pandemic has presented challenges to our spiritual selves that have demanded deeper explorations of that part of our being just so we could endure what we needed to endure.  In many ways, we have been blessed by this unwelcomed, day-to-day encounter with the sacredness of life and the realities of suffering and death.  Of necessity, many of us have opened ourselves to touching one another center-to-center, soul to soul.[ii]

Johnson criticizes the tardiness of traditional Christian response to AIDS, giving his own summary of GBLTQ response to the pandemic.  Notwithstanding, that his portrayal is at complete variance to the testimony of activists and homosexuals like Larry Kramer and Bill Kraus, and other authors such as Gabriel.Rotello and Randy Shiltz, he writes:

Lesbians and gay men were the first wave of care-givers, educators, and advocates in this global pandemic.  Not only did we do it, we did it well, bringing solace and quality care to many who had been abandoned by the church. In doing so, lesbians and gay men unintentionally shamed the church.  We found, among one another, a true community of nonjudgmental, loving people for whom compassion had become a way of life.  Ironically, for many the HIV/AIDS pandemic illuminates spiritual concerns that have always been part of lesbian and gay lives – though often unacknowledged personally or in the community.  Gay and lesbian people who left the church took their spirits with them.  Their spiritual lives did not end.  Indeed, for some, spirituality became more vital than ever once deinstitutionalized.[iii]

Johnson continues his apology of gay theology:

The sex-for-procreation rigidity of the Judeo-Christian tradition has caused many human beings to fragmentize sexuality from a holistic understanding of personhood….For those of us who are lesbian and gay, this means affirming our physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, and erotic responsiveness to persons of our own gender as integral to our personhood.  The quest for integrity is the ongoing process of integrating the components of self into a congruent, meaningful whole.  Affirming our same-gender orientation, and its expression in social and erotic relationships, rather than accepting negative cultural or ecclesiastical definitions of our identity, is essential to the process of integration.  As human sexuals we have a God-given right to responsibly express, not deny or repress our natural sexuality.[iv] [my underline]

His premise, “As human sexuals we have a God-given right to responsibly express, not deny or repress our natural sexuality” lies at the heart of this article.  So let us approach the issue by rhetorically challenging Johnson and like-minded theologians to justify “responsible self-expression.”

This is really another way of asking the question: What is the sustainable philosophy for GBLTQ culture?  Surely gay and pro-gay “Christians” have to articulate what responsible love looks like, and Christ deserves better than to preach a “God-ordained lifestyle” that only works with consistent use of prophylactics, drugs and finely articulated safe sex guidance.  To the orthodox Christian and a large portion of secular heterosexuals, it is just not credible to claim rights to a professed “natural sexuality” that is only sustainable when the vast majority live in fear of death, require continuous “Wellness” indoctrination and a condom for every intimate act.  If you are going to throw out the Leviticus Code, then what is a responsible replacement sexuality?

Betty Berzon, Ph.D., author of Positively Gay: New Approaches to Gay and Lesbian Life writes:

One of the greatest gifts that gay and lesbian culture has given to mainstream society is the ability to talk about sex, sexuality, sexual desire, and sexual activity openly and with respect.  It is not a deep, dark (and often dirty) secret, but a wonderful part of relating in the most human and spiritual way possible to one another.  Should you ‘go-all-the-way on the first date?’  (As my high school teachers would have put it.)  No reason not to if you know what you are doing and do it safely.  Should you wait to get to know one another first?  Of course, if that is what you feel you need to do to find the happiness and respect you need and deserve.  The right and wrong way to act sexually can come to each of us through reflection, self-knowledge, experience, and good honest information about our sexual desires and health needs.[v]

The reality of gay and pro-gay theology is that nothing can be drawn from Scripture to guide “responsible GBLTQ self-expression.”  Johnson and Berzon address spirituality and sexuality respectively, without any association to the Creator’s design and guidance.  Everything is self-centered.  One is left wondering what God is Johnson referring to?

Eric Marcus, author of The Male Couple’s Guide: Finding a Man, Making a Home, Building a Life, writes under the topic “Not Having Sex On The First Date”:

Plenty of long-lasting relationships have started with sex before, during, and after the first date.  Nonetheless there are two good practical reasons to avoid having sex on the first date: (1) it’s often ultimately less complicated than having sex and (2) there are no health risks if all you do is hold hands.[vi]

Marcus advises his readers on how to stay out of bed on the first and even second date:

Saying I wasn’t going to bed on the first date was one thing.  Figuring out how to do it was something else.  It took me more years than I would like to admit to learn how to put on the brakes.  I did know having sex with a man who turned out to be a disappointment left me far more miserable than discovering that I didn’t like him before we became physically involved.  But my need for affection and physical contact almost always overpowered the part of my brain that controls rational behavior, even when I suspected I was making a mistake.  Since I found my behavior so difficult to control, I changed tactics.

I made a commitment to myself: ‘I won’t have sex on the first date, or the first week, or until…’  But that wasn’t enough, I discovered that the secret to following through with a rational decision in the face of irrational passion was to put something other than clothing between me and my date…Don’t (1)Go to his home or your home.  (2)Go anywhere you will be entirely alone.  (3)Avoid: Using the same car.[vii]

“The whole culture has to change,” says Larry Kramer.  “We have created a culture that in fact murdered us, killed us.  What you can’t help but think, if you’ve got any brains, is don’t people ever learn anything?”  Such remarks won him few fans at Sex Panic.  “A culture doesn’t kill people,” reports Kendell Thomes, a law professor at Columbia University, “The virus kills people.”  Sex Panic founder Michael Warner, an English professor at Rutgers University, argues that promiscuous sex is the essence of gay liberation, and that any attempt to fight AIDS by changing the gay way of life is doomed: “it is an absurd fantasy to expect gay men to live without a sexual culture when we have almost nothing else that brings us together.”[viii]  Promiscuity and safe sex can co-exist, Sex Panic’s members argue.

Current debate over the “suicidal” health risks associated with the gay lifestyle occurs against the backdrop of evidence that homosexuals are returning to anal intercourse without condoms.  In a survey of 205 gay men in Miami’s South Beach, Dr. William W. Darrow, a public health professor at Florida International University, found that 45 percent had unprotected anal sex in the past year.  The study showed gonorrhea rates are up, too. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 1993 to 1996, a survey of clinics in 26 cities found gonorrhea among such men rose 74 percent.[ix]

What are pro-gay and gay “Christians” saying about promiscuity?  What are they saying about the health risks of the GBLTQ lifestyle?  Again we must rely on Kramer to get the non-politically correct answer:

The facts: A small and vocal gay group that calls itself Sex Panic has taken it upon itself to demand “sexual freedom,” which its members define as allowing gay men to have sex when and where and how they want to.  In other words, the group is an advocate of unsafe sex, if that is what is wanted, and of public sex, if that is what is wanted.  It advocates unconditional, unlimited promiscuity.  Once again [previously during AIDS outbreak] it has become a battle over civil rights rather than an issue of public health.  Why is public sex a civil right?  I do not want to see straight people copulating in the park or in public washrooms.

The facts: Not one AIDS organization or national gay or lesbian group has been willing to speak out and condemn or even criticize what Sex Panic is saying.  Criticism from lesbians, the other half of our movement, is desperately needed as well.  Promiscuous gay men must hear the message, ‘Enough already! Haven’t you learned anything from the past 17 years?’  Yet lesbian activists, who alongside gay men have fought against AIDS, crawl into shells rather than confront the idiocy of what Sex Panic is demanding.  Without a strong vocal opposition, Sex Panic is on its way to convincing much of America that all gay men are back to pre-AIDS self-destructive behavior that will wind up costing the taxpayer a lot of extra money.

Allowing sex-centruism to remain the sole definition of homosexuality is now coming to be seen as the greatest act of self-destruction.  There is a growing understanding that we created a culture that in effect murdered us, and that if we are to remain alive it’s time to redefine homosexuality as something far greater than what we do with our genitals.  But that redefinition will require nothing less than remaking our culture.[x]

Tim Vollmer, writing in the New York Native, said the problem with the current safe sex campaign is that it does not confront the task of restructuring the premise of gay male sexuality.  Instead, it implies that all gay men can do is simply wait till the epidemic is over [i.e. a cure discovered] before resuming life as before.  It is a holding pattern, a freezing of an obsolete culture at its least dysfunctional level.  “The danger with such a policy, if it is allowed to be more than just a transitional phase,” says Vollmer, “is that it preempts any innovation of the gay experience.  It is a policy of confinement and restriction, concentrating on what gay men can’t do, what homosexuality isn’t.”[xi]  He further argues:

No matter how valuable the safe sex campaign is, gay men need more nowadays than a list of don’ts.  In terms of coping with an injured self-image, sexuality, and lifestyle, today’s situation has an urgency that must at least be equal to anything that existed in the 1950s and 1960s…To avoid the twin dangers of sinking with an obsolete culture or shifting back to an oppressive one, gay men must respond with the same energy and creativity they exhibited in the early days of gay liberation.[xii]

Here proponents of same-sex marriage might lobby society in the erroneous hope and claim for an outpouring of homosexual monogamy and thus reduced lifestyle health risks.  This positive claim of same-sex marriage appears small in light of science.  In Sex & Germs, Cindy Patton found that gay monogamy was not going to usher in needed salvation for the so-called “obsolete culture.”  She writes:

Two recent studies from San Francisco and Chicago, however, indicate that coupling [gay monogamy] does not necessarily produce more discussion or safer sexual practices.  These studies asked gay men why they had not changed a range of sexual practices, most of which the respondents agreed would decrease the risk of AIDS.  In the San Francisco study, men in monogamous couples, in primary relationships with some sexual activity outside the relationship, and with no primary relationship but multiple partners, nearly all agreed that they hadn’t implemented desired changes because they perceived their partner(s) to be unwilling to make that change.  The second and third most common reasons were ‘I like it too much to stop’ and ‘It just seems like what is expected’ - a more diffuse articulation of the notion that certain practices, or a constellation of practices, are what makes someone gay.  The Chicago study had similar results.[xiii]

Martin Weinberg et al. reported in Dual Attraction, the following interpretations of the meaning of “safe” in safe sex by bisexuals in the San Francisco area:

I never use safe sex with female partners.  I hate condoms.  Two or three years ago I decided to trust my intuition maybe ask a few questions.  I said ‘damn it, what’s going to happen will happen.’ (M)

I go to the baths in Berkeley about once a month.  It’s still very active there.  I see a lot of unsafe sex there - guys being fucked without rubbers.  There’s also a maze with glory holes and no cock sticking out has a rubber on it.  (M)

I go over to the baths at Berkeley a lot.  I have oral sex there, never anal sex.  I’ve never seen anyone in the baths use condoms with oral sex…I went ahead because I’m extremely oral.  If oral sex caused AIDS, I would have been infected by now, that’s my conclusion.  (M)[xiv]

We don’t go to swing parties anymore.  We don’t go to bath houses, that kind of thing.  We have a close circle of lovers, there’s no more anonymous sex.  We’re just cautious all around.  (F)[xv]

Weinberg also studied the meaning of “Sex” in Safe Sex.  He and his associates found that AIDS has forced the “deconstruction” of the word “sex:”

What was a life-affirming activity, a source of personal and social validation, was stripped of its wider meanings and became, first and foremost, a physical act constituting a prime route for a deadly virus.  To a remarkable degree the ‘sex’ in ‘safe sex’ was focused primarily on the exchange of various ‘bodily fluids’ regardless of the who, where, when, emotionality, passion, intimacy, and the like that gives meaning to sexuality.  Not that these were absent, but they were secondary and were only considered important insofar as they were relevant to the issue of contagion.[xvi]

For many bisexuals, sex became equated with death:

The concept that sperm is a deadly weapon has debilitated our society. (M)

I always practice safe sex.  But I am uncomfortable with someone who’s listed negative.  I feel like I have a deadly disease - leprosy - and they may catch it.  But there’s a stronger connection with those who have tested positive.  (M)

You feel dangerous.  But I have to keep it in perspective and hold on to my sexuality in the face of horror.  I feel like giving it up at times though. (M)

It’s definitely put a damper on being sexually free and open.  I’m inundated with the whole AIDS issue, since I know so many gay men.  It places a mood on sexuality such that it’s not easy, clear, or fun to the same degree it used to be. (F)

AIDS has definitely ruined my sex life.  Condoms take all the fun out of fellatio and really make a penis look and smell like a rubber stick.  Dental dams [latex between one partner’s organ and the other’s mouth] completely block sensation, smell, and taste.  I have a lot less sex, and what I have isn’t worth squat. (F)

I hated condoms when I had to use them for birth control.  I can’t imagine anyone enjoying having to use them.  Rubber dams are even worse.  Cocks and clits are warm and moist and soft.  Rubber gloves are cold and unyielding barriers to sensation.  (F)[xvii]

Are these the articulations of a God-given “right to responsibly express one’s natural sexuality”?  Again what God?  Where is this God in literature, in history, in reality?

Weinberg found, among the bisexuals, a general widespread lack of sexual satisfaction, a decreased sexual repertoire, and the fear that safe sex might not be all that safe no matter what the precautions taken:

I felt a sense of loss and mourning about just giving up sexual practices with men I enjoyed, even doing safe sex.  Sucking with a rubber wasn’t a turn-on.  I was very much into oral sex.  I had just started to enjoy receiving anal sex when AIDS came around.  I felt frustrated; even engaging in safe sex I felt anxious.  What if the rubber broke?  If someone came on me and I had a cut?  Got to be not worth it. (M)

In every article or book I’ve read that refers to why people don’t use condoms.  I have yet to read anyone who seems to know why.  It’s because ejaculation is part of this satisfaction for many people, men and women.  (M)

Sex becomes more complicated with condoms.  I think there’s some spiritual meaning in exchanging bodily fluids.  That’s gone when I wear a condom. (M)

You have to think about sex a little more before you do it now.  You have to buy things; you have to make sure you are supplied with rubber items.  You can’t just spontaneously slip your hand in, you have to go find a glove.  You have to think about where your supplies are.  You have to be prepared. (F) [xviii]

Studying sexual etiquette, Weinberg found, safe sex for bisexuals meant a dialogue with partners in which past experiences, current partners, likes and dislikes, health status, and so on were discussed before sex occurred.  Again this often distracted from the experience of sex since clear rules of etiquette did not exist, and asking too many questions could call into question a partner’s integrity.  He records:

I feel like every woman I go out with I have to explain my past and explain a lot about how AIDS is transmitted.  I don’t think it’s changed who I’ve had a relationship with but it’s slowed up the sexualization of a relationship (F)[xix]

He has AIDS, a full-blown case.  I feel confident that we are performing the safest sex we can with the most pleasure and satisfaction.  Most often I masturbate myself while he holds me.  If he has the strength, we have intercourse and that of course includes condoms, using a sponge and lubricant with nonoxynol.[xx]

I’ve organized jack and jill-off parties.  The rules are no fucking and we provide latex gloves, rubbers - all under safe sex guidelines.  People sign a statement that they will follow these.  They don’t always, though.  I’ve got depressed offering these parties. (F)[xxi]

It seems clear from these testimonies that desire for peak pleasure and passion causes most to toss technological-behavioral prudence away in the face of reaching the maximum orgasm.  To the orthodox Christian the divine boundaries for safe sex are clear – only in lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage and even then, never to replace God as the central organizing principle of life.  Pro-gay and gay “Christians” may continue to argue for freedom of individual sexual expression based on mutuality of desire and relationship; however, the failure of the Condom Code and other safe sex practices daily serve as reminder that something is wrong with the ecology of free love, non-monogamous sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual.  Moreover, the impact of AIDS goes well beyond the tragedy of the individual.  There are family, relatives and friends impacted by these deaths, not to mention the totally unrelated individuals who become infected by contaminated blood products, and the cost of AIDS treatment on the health system.  What of Africa?

As the basis of a credible and sustainable gay ecology, Gabriel Rotello contends the Condom Code is an abject failure.  He refers in evidence to what is called “The Tragedy of the Commons.”  In the journal Science[xxii]  in 1968, Garret Hardin sketched out a dilemma concerning primacy of the individual over the public good; the idea that some “invisible hand” will always direct people to do what is best for the common good.  He calls this dilemma “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Hardin describes a town commons in New England.  All the villagers have a legal right to graze their cattle on the commons and this arrangement benefits everybody equally.  However, each time a new cow is added to the commons, it places stress on the environment.  Only a finite number of cows can graze annually for a sustainable relationship.  The “tragedy” lies in the fact that it is in each individual farmer’s interest to add one more cow, since each farmer receives full benefit of that cow, while loss in grazing capacity is shared equally by everyone.  In Hardin’s equation, the “positive utility” of adding another cow equals roughly one for each farmer, but the “negative utility” is spread equally among everyone, and is therefore far less than one for any individual farmer.  So the sensible course is for each farmer to add another cow.  Everyone does, and the commons is destroyed.

The relevance of this principle to AIDS and gay men was first pointed out by Martina Morris and Laura Dean in their famous paper on the effects of behaviour change on the spread of HIV.  They find that if the average gay man in New York reduced his sexual contact rate to one “unsafe contact” per year, the level of HIV in that population would probably drop to less than 5 percent in thirty-five years.  But if the average rose to two unsafe contacts per year, HIV prevalence would rise to 60 percent.  “The implications of temporary returns to unsafe sex practices are not simply an increase in individual risk,” they write, “but also the persistence of HIV transmission at epidemic levels in the [gay] population.”  This result is a classic example of the “Tragedy of the Commons,” where the disjunction between individual and population level effects leads to the potential for worse case outcomes.  Says Rotello:

Here the increment in individual risk from a slight increase in contact rate is negligible, assuming the individual acts alone.  If all individuals make this choice, however, the aggregate impact is non-negligible, and the result is a phase shift in the population dynamics of the disease, dramatically increasing everyone’s risk.[xxiii]

According to Rotello, the problem is rooted in the difference between individual and aggregate risk.  What each man gains by having occasional risky sex is, from his perspective, potentially much greater than what he loses, especially if his activity is not really very risky.  “I can have plenty of sexual partners and do so perfectly safely,” someone will typically say.  “I always have safe sex, or at least almost always.  Why should I change?”  From his perspective he shouldn’t.  That’s the “tragedy” part of the Tragedy of the Commons.  Each person sees no need to change a system where his individual choices are indeed logical and beneficial for him.  But all those “logical” choices add up and tip the entire system into disaster.[xxiv]  Writes Rotello:

Many people cannot fathom what we mean by ‘commons’ when we speak of gay men and AIDS.  Most people think of sex as a private affair, and in the gay movement the concept of sexual privacy is elevated to almost a sacred principle, since much of the gay movement is based on the idea that sex is and ought to be nobody’s business but your own.  But biology is under no obligation to respect ideology, and the gay commons is as biologically real as the commons in an old colonial village.  In a biological sense, every gay man who has ‘private’ sex joins together in a visceral, biological stream that flows through our blood and our bodily fluids both in time, connecting us to the private sexual acts of gay men years ago, and in space, linking us to the sexual acts of those all around us.  By becoming sexually active, each of us influences the fate of our brothers, and is influenced by them as well.  The question is not whether there is a gay commons; the question is whether that commons will remain polluted with HIV in such a way that it will continue to pose extreme danger even to those who make only modest contact with it, including gay youth who are just becoming sexually active.[xxv]

He continues:

HIV is without question the most mutable virus yet encountered, and there remains a very real danger that it will somehow manage to elude even the most potent drug combinations and emerge in drug-resistant forms.  If it does, that would obviously be tragic for the unlucky individuals in whom it occurs.  But if gay men mistakenly believe that the epidemic is waning and return to the habits of the past, rapidly transmitting new, drug-resistant strains of HIV across newly constituted viral highways, the potential for tragedy is almost unthinkable.  It is all together possible that over the next several years gay men’s failure to comprehend and modify our sexual ecology could lead to a Third Wave of the epidemic, this time with drug-resistant strains of HIV.[xxvi]

The notion that multipartnerism does not matter, because the Condom Code is a workable version of safe sex is myth:

In fact, the Condom Code does not seem ever to have been very effective in containing the epidemic.  The drop in new infections in the mid-eighties, for example, probably occurred because most of the susceptible gay men were already infected.  Now that a new generation of susceptible young men have entered the gay world, they are getting infected at rates that indicate that about half will eventually get AIDS, which is about the same ratio as the older generation.  The fact is that many people do not seem able to use condoms consistently enough to stem the epidemic.  Condoms are very important in the battle against AIDS, but total reliance on the Condom Code blinds us to the fact that condoms are just one narrow possible arsenal of responses to AIDS.  The Condom Code in the gay world is, in many ways, as much a political as a medical construction.  Its dual purpose has been to prevent HIV transmission while preserving the ‘sex positivity’ of gay male culture, thereby proving that the gay sexual revolution of the seventies can continue during a fatal epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease.  But it provides virtually no room for error, and is in many respects anti-ecological, a classic ‘technological fix,’ because it has never addressed the larger factors in the gay environment that helped spread HIV.[xxvii]

Michelangelo Signorile, author of Queer in America, and Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends and Coworkers; and Life Outside - The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and Passages of Life, gives a personal testimony, in the latter book, on failing to live by the Condom Code:

Last year I spent a couple of grueling weeks on assignment in Hawaii.  One night in a Waikiki gay bar I met your classic gay hunk: tall and masculine, with a buzzed haircut, razor-sharp cheekbones, a body of granite, and a Texas drawl.  I’ll make you see God tonight, he promised, trying to coax me to go home with him.  It didn’t take much for me to realize I needed a religious experience; we went to his place.  As usual, one thing quickly led to another.  But not as usual, he didn’t put on a condom before we had anal sex, and I didn’t demand he use one…I’d had a couple of Absolut Citrons.  And I had made a quick decision - inside of ten seconds - based on heat-of-the-moment rationalizations that at some distance seem absurd: 1) Since he did not put on a condom, he must be negative; 2) He is a Navy petty officer and therefore is a responsible ‘good’ boy; 3) Since he is in the military he must be tested every six months and would be discharged if positive; 4) He’s absolutely perfect - a gay male ideal - and I don’t want to do anything to make him blow off the whole night; 5) I’m sure it’ll be okay as long as he doesn’t come; 6) This is Hawaii, and the AIDS problem can’t be like it is in New York; 7) I’ll do it this one time.[xxviii]

Writes Rotello:

The very behaviors that gay activists had spent years promoting seemed to have contained the seeds of disaster.  But since promiscuity and anal sex were perceived by many (thought certainly not all) gay men to be central to liberation…The question then became, if anal sex and promiscuity equal liberation, and AIDS is spreading due to anal sex and promiscuity, how can gay men control the spread of AIDS without sacrificing liberation?…These two challenges created a dual imperative that has characterized gay AIDS prevention to this day: to prevent the spread of HIV, but only in a way that defends gay men against attacks from the right and preserves the multipartnerist ethic of the gay sexual revolution.  In what was undoubtedly one of the tallest orders a prevention strategy ever had to fill, safer sex was to be a political and social as much as a medical or ecological construction.[xxix]

In gay safe sex guidance, once it was demonstrated that HIV could indeed be blocked with latex condoms, the advice to reduce partners was slowly abandoned and the advice to use condoms became the central tenet of the new gay sexual ecology.  Indeed, so central did condom use become that David L. Chambers, in an insightful article in the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review, dubbed the entire safer sex regime the “Code of the Condom”.  According to the code, risk lies almost exclusively in the exchange of fluids during anal sex, and therefore the “use of a condom is a biological [God-given!] necessity.[xxx] [my insert]

Another approach could be to urge men to refrain from anal sex altogether, in favor of things like oral sex and noninsertive activities such as masturbation.  Writes Chambers, “Such a policy was followed in Holland until 1991.  Men were encouraged to give up anal sex completely, and many apparently did.”[xxxi] Nonetheless, this approach was never seriously entertained by gay AIDS groups in the United States.  Anal sex had come to be seen as an essential - possibly the essential - expression of homosexual intimacy by the 1980s.  Writes Rotello:

Perhaps the most famous articulation of this view appeared in a 1985 New York Native interview with Joseph Sonnabend. ‘The rectum’, Sonnabend said, ‘is a sexual organ, and it deserves the respect a penis gets and a vagina gets.  Anal intercourse had been the central activity for gay men and for some women for all of history.…We have to recognize what is hazardous, but at the same time, we shouldn’t undermine an act that’s important to celebrate.’  Michael Callen was openly scornful of any attempt to discourage gay men from practicing anal sex.  In his 1989 article: ‘In defense of Anal Sex’ in the PWA Coalition Newsline, Callen listed three basic reasons.  First he considered such a message an equivocation.  If, Callen wrote, the premise is that condoms aren’t fully safe, then the message should be that everyone should ‘stop having anal sex entirely.’ This seems a rather muddled objection, since the message Callen was objecting to was precisely that: to stop having anal sex entirely.  His second objection was that this avoids more difficult and complex messages, such as advising men to perform coitus interruptus, demanding better condoms from manufacturers, educating gay men about proper condom use, and demanding a ‘national AIDS education campaign which speaks bluntly in non-clinical language that people can understand.’  His third (and, I suspect, core) objection was that any message advising abandonment of anal sex was homophobic, since similar messages about giving up vaginal sex were not being directed toward heterosexuals.[xxxii]

Instead, the code of the condom became virtually the entire message of prevention.  “Condom distribution” became a rallying cry in gay bars, “Condom availability” a major goal of public education programs.  The condom became a symbol of safety, prevention’s magic bullet.  All this was carried out, however, in knowledge of the fact that the Condom Code contained certain inherent risks:

Condom failure rates of approximately 10 percent have only been a fact of life for heterosexuals attempting to use them to prevent pregnancy.[xxxiii]

A survey published in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, reported failures of 4.7 percent to 8 percent.  Factors that led to failure included condoms being ‘too small or too thin, the use of oil as opposed to water-based lubricants, breakage due to fingernails or jewelry, inexperience in condom use, physical stress of condoms inherent to anal intercourse, and the use of condoms not designed for anal intercourse,’  In addition to mechanical failure condoms often fail to provide protection because people fail to use them consistently, which is hardly surprising given the lack of rational thinking that often precedes sex.[xxxiv]

An August 1992 update in MMWR reported that among serodiscordant heterosexual couples, the rate of HIV transmission was 9.7 percent among those who used condoms ‘inconsistently’ and 1.1 percent among those who used them “consistently”.  A 1990 study in the Journal of AIDS estimated that for heterosexual serodiscordant couples, the overall failure rates for HIV ‘may approach those for pregnancy,’ which the study cited as 10 percent.[xxxv]

Observes Rotello:

Anything that might undermine confidence in condoms was felt to undermine confidence in safer sex itself.  It was hard enough to get gay men to use condoms in the first place, hard enough to convince governments to promote them, hard enough to get schools to make them available to sexually active teens.  If in addition it were admitted that condoms failed on a low but fairly regular basis, the job of condom promotion might become impossible….Prevention activists were thus forced into a defensive posture, and as such were very reluctant to give any ground at all on the issue of condom effectiveness.[xxxvi]

Frank Browning summarized his view of the safe sex inconsistencies.  At first, safe sex seemed simple, like following a cookbook:  (1) do not exchange bodily fluids; (2) reduce the number of sexual partners; (3) avoid anal intercourse (or, at least, use a condom); and (4) do not engage in fisting (anal penetration by the fist and, sometimes forearm as well) or rimming (oral-anal contact).  If gay men were simply to adjust their sex lives to conform to these simple rules, they could easily protect themselves from HIV infection.  Says Browning:

Nearly everyone bought the program - at least for a while, some however, found the rules bizarre.  Consider Rule 2: Reduce the number of sexual partners.  Why? Because epidemiologists found high correlation’s between the number of sexual contacts and HIV.  However, if the monogamous man’s partner is already infected, than probability analysis provides little protection.  In following Rule 2, gay men feel they are often given subliminal permission - if not outright permission - to forget Rule 1.  Indeed, by 1990, researchers had discovered through behavioral studies that unattached gay men were significantly less likely to expose themselves to HIV through risky sex than were men in serial monogamous relationships.  Apparently, then, the reduction in the number of sexual mates has nothing to do with the prevention of viral transmission.  So what is going on?… Rule 3: Avoid anal intercourse.  But if condoms are effective, why avoid anal sex?[xxxvii]

Stranger still is the rule against fisting.  By 1984, it was clear that AIDS was the result of some microbe - HIV, and possibly other agents as well - could be transmitted via the blood or semen.  Yet what, it was asked, could possibly be tranmitted from the fist to the rectum so long as the fist was clean or, at least, gloved in rubber?  Researchers answered that inappropriate objects inserted into the rectum could cause abrasions or fissures through which HIV could later gain entry.  But by the same logic, a mishap during any anal sex could also result in cuts and abrasions that, if the area was later exposed to blood or semen, could lead to HIV infection.  Nonetheless, these scientists asserted, such practices are dangerous, dangerous because the rectum was not designed by nature to be penetrated by objects.[xxxviii]

When looking at the long list of diseases that swept the gay male world in the years leading up to AIDS, one sees that quite a few were primarily spread by oral-anal sex and many others were spread just as readily orally as anally.  The list includes all forms of hepatitis, most forms of oral and genital herpes, oral gonorrhea, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and all of the major intestinal parasites.  The common wisdom then and now has been that these diseases are insignificant, mild and easy to cure, and they didn’t have much to do with AIDS.  Says Rotello, “the common wisdom is largely wrong.  Herpes remains incurable in all its forms, as do Epstein-Barr virus and CMV.  Gonorrhea has mutated into deadly and incurable antibiotic-resistant strains.”[xxxix]  Gastrointestinal parasites are cured only with great difficulty, and the large doses of drugs needed to cure them place a major strain on the immune system.   Clearly the practice of anal sex with many partners was not the only problem, although it was the first to produce such a catastrophic result.  Yet the Condom Code focused almost exclusively on anal sex, preferring to ignore this wider web of ecological and behavioral cause and effect.  Receptive oral sex while significantly less risky than receptive anal sex, nonetheless carries a risk of HIV infection, but this, too, was largely glossed over by the Condom Code.  Oral sex has been a contentious subject in AIDS prevention from the start, for good reason.  Many studies indicate that oral sex is the most popular sexual practice among gay men.  Most studies also indicate that people find condoms extremely intrusive during oral sex, quite literally ruining the experience for many.  As a result, prevention workers are understandably loath to advise using condoms.[xl]

Epidemiologists who have studied the issue concur that the risk of infection during receptive oral sex is probably from one fifth to one tenth of the risk during receptive anal sex, perhaps even less. The reason even this degree of risk is not seen more often in studies, they argue, is that whenever a newly infected man indicated that he has had any anal sex, the infection is automatically assigned to that practice.  The tendency of anal sex to “mask” the risk of oral sex has had a psychological effect on the gay community as well, reinforcing the popular conception that oral risk is minuscule.  Says Rotello:

Most AIDS groups and safer sex brochures traditionally have left it up to individual choice:  You might want to use a condom during oral sex, but many people choose not to.  It’s up to you.  More recently. Some have begun promoting unprotected oral sex, sometimes even to ejaculation, as a form of ‘harm reduction.’  One slogan:  ‘Oral Sex is Safer Sex.’[xli]

Another area of controversy in the “Condom Code” is testing.  Widely available in 1985, most gay AIDS groups advised gay men to avoid the test.  Lack of effective therapies, they argued, meant that knowledge of HIV infection could not lead to useful therapies but would almost certainly lead to despair.  Moreover, in the opinion of most AIDS groups the Condom Code fulfills any obligation an HIV-positive person might have to inform his or her partner.  Gay Men’s Health Center’s pamphlet “Safer Sex for HIV Positives” was typical:

If you follow (the guideline to use condoms), you don’t need to worry about whether your partners know that you’re positive.  You’ve already protected them from infection and yourself from reinfection….Just use your judgment about who to tell - there’s still discrimination out there.  The risk of discrimination to the infected person is as serious, or even more serious, than the risk of infecting one’s partners.  Therefore the right to remain silent and protect oneself from possible discrimination trumps the obligation to disclose and allow one’s partners to make more informed decisions about the level of risk they are willing to take.[xlii]

Rotello describes the effect of testing:

Now many men knew that they were HIV-positive and a great gulf opened up in the gay male world between HIV positives and HIV negatives.  Many who were positive saw little incentive to practice safer sex for their own protection.  True, health experts warned of the possibility of reinfection with different strains of HIV, but many men considered that possibility less than fully proved.  Experts also warned about the danger of other opportunistic infections, but many positive men were not particularly impressed with admonitions that they ought to forgo unprotected anal sex out of fear of contracting infections they might just as easily get from oral sex or, for that matter, kissing.

Given that, it might have made sense to amend the Condom Code, adding an absolute obligation to get tested and know your serostatus, and adding, for those who find out they are HIV positive, an absolute obligation to protect others from infection, even if those others are momentarily willing to take a risk.  No such amendment, however was made.  HIV-positive men continued to be told to practice safer sex for their own benefit, not out of any altruistic obligation to protect others.  This had the unfortunate effect of implying to many HIV positive men that they were off the ethical hook when engaging in unsafe sex, particularly with anonymous partners.  The Condom Code’s ethic of self-defense allowed them to reason justly that if they found a partner who was willing to engage in risky sex, that partner must be doing so out of informed choice.  And if that partner became infected, it was his own fault.  A catch-22 thus arose in many sexual situations.  An HIV-positive person could assume that if his partner was willing to engage in risky activities, that partner must also be positive.[xliii]

Once more, are these the articulations of a God-given natural sexuality?  Are these responsible expressions of homosexuality?  Where is gay-theology on these matters, if not silent?  What does Peter Fink have to say about his 1976 “Pastoral Hypothesis,” now that the experiment is decades long?  His original hypothesis stated:

If homosexual love is sinful this will show itself as destructive of the human and disruptive of man’s relationship with God.[xliv]

It is sometimes said that the adoption of the Condom Code was the “least transformative” change that gay men could have made in the face of the epidemic.  Harm reduction has been described as a ‘philosophy’ wherein the professional health care provider sets aside all judgments in order to meet clients at their own level regarding a problem or crisis.  If an IV drug user comes to health workers and asks for help in avoiding HIV infection, health workers should not insist that the user give up injecting drugs in order to receive help.  Instead, they should provide the user with clean needles and information to help avoid infection.  Help in quitting drugs may also be provided but only if asked for.  The reasoning is that many IV drug users don’t want to quit using drugs; they just want to avoid HIV.  So if health workers demand that they quit using drugs in order to get help, many users will be driven away from HIV prevention programs and needlessly become infected.  Concludes Rotello:

In a sense, the almost exclusive focus on the Condom Code represents an effort by gay AIDS organizations to apply harm reduction to the gay community as a whole…..together with moralists and homophobes and their advice.  This nontransformative approach is reinforced by the widespread belief that gay men cannot change their sexual culture even if they want to.  Many activists openly express what the late journalist Randy Shilts called the “sex fiend” argument; that many gay men are insatiable satyrs who would respond to admonitions to change their basic patterns of behavior by hiding and perhaps even increasing that behavior rather than actually attempting to change it.[xlv]

This reasoning is also buttressed by the dual ideological imperative to fight AIDS but only in ways that support what is sometimes called ”sex positive” gay male culture.  Gay author Frank Browning relates that some of his straight friends were incredulous at the behavior of gay AIDS activists and prevention workers at the Fifth International AIDS Conference in Montreal:

For five days the discos were packed with gay doctors, nurses, activists, and researchers shamelessly cruising each other.  A nearby bathhouse was doing land-office business.  A JO (jack-off) club posted promotional fliers in the conference exhibit hall…Most of my straight friends have told me that they cannot fathom how an AIDS conference can also be a sex carnival.  My standard flip response has frequently been ‘But what else could it be?’  The lust of men for other men has not evaporated just because funerals and memorial services have become nearly as ordinary as an evening at the theater. We could not relinquish passion to death.[xlvi]

Michael Lynch wrote in the gay Canadian publication Body Politic during the heyday of the partner reduction message in the early 1980s.  “Gays are once again allowing the medical profession to define, restrict, pathologize us.”  Gay liberation was founded, he said, on a “sexual brotherhood of promiscuity” and any abandonment of the promiscuity would amount to a “communal betrayal of gargantuan proportions.”  The Condom Code eliminated such concerns.  By declaring that condoms fulfilled all obligations to prevention, the culture of multipartnerism could be justified and celebrated anew.[xlvii]

AIDS activists also promoted the “degaying” of AIDS.  At the time activists believed that the terrible experience of AIDS in the Third World was a harbinger of what was to come in developed countries, and that HIV’s widespread dissemination among heterosexuals in Africa and Asia, was simply a result of those continents’ “head start”.  In this view, heterosexuals around the world are pretty much all alike, so that what happens among heterosexuals in Uganda is bound to happen to their counterparts in Utah given enough time. Says Rotello: “When author Fumento challenged these ideas in his book The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS in 1989, he was savaged virtually everywhere.” The widespread acceptance of degaying had a profound impact on gay men’s vision of their own sexual ecology.  If AIDS was not a “gay disease” why should gay men examine the ecological reasons their community was so devastated?  Clearly it was just an accident of history, a fluke, a momentary incursion of an otherwise universal pandemic.  As the Condom Code appeared to solve the problem of transmission, as the idea that AIDS would soon be striking millions of heterosexuals sank in, the obvious ecological implications of the epidemic for gay men could now be not only ignored but indignantly denied.[xlviii]

In response to the Weiner and Starr survey 78 per cent say they are worried about AIDS in general, 36 per cent are not personally worried about contracting AIDS, 90 per cent are not worried at all about AIDS in their current relationships.[xlix]  Fifty-two per cent said they now have the same number of sex partners while 44 per cent said fewer.  Only 35 per cent said they have more dates before engaging in sex.  Thirty per cent said they are using condoms more than before.   As far as avoiding a relationship because of fear of AIDS, 74 per cent said they have not.  Half said they rarely or never ask about sexually transmitted diseases and the other half said they do ask some questions.  Some 70 per cent claimed they were never asked.[l]

Weiner and Starr observe:

In light of these problems it seems to us that attitudes and behavior are clearly separate and often different from espoused beliefs and knowledge.  For example, that many more people use condoms and that, as in our survey, they use them more than previously does not mean that those who use them do so all the time.  If not, what does that say about concern?[li]

Their study showed that over 90 per cent of those queried said they had sexual relations in the last year without using a condom - some frequently, others rarely or occasionally.

If mankind accepts that multipartnered sex is okay and anal intercourse is a God-blessed sexual act, where would queer “Christians” claim the boundaries now lie for operating within God’s design?  Is sin now solely a matter of volume – a few too many partners, a few too many penetrations, a few too much experimentation, a few too many public locations, a few too many STDs?  What can gay and pro-gay “Christians” draw upon in scripture to countenance GBLTQ sexual behaviors?

Frank Browning, illuminates the illogic of the Condom Code in addressing the truth exposed by the North American AIDS pandemic:

There are stories, true stories, from the West Side docks of Manhattan, from the trails of Griffith Park in Los Angels, from the warehouse catacombs along Folsom Street in San Francisco, of men whose journey’s into sadomasochism led to suffocation, mutilation, dismemberment.  Before the AIDS epidemic, these were dark tales at the periphery of the great gay adventure; the stuff of gossip…The arrival of AIDS changed all that.  Mystified by a disease that seemed only to touch gay men, researchers began in earnest to explore the behavioral particulars of homosexual desire.  They were regaled with tales of the kinkiest and most bizarre uses of the body, of violence and torture and abuse.  They were stunned by the matter-of-fact accounts of men whose nipples were attached to chains and stretched, whose testicles were twisted in leather thongs, whose mouths were gorged on the penis of one unknown man while another would plunge his fist and forearm so deeply into their bowels that he could feel on his fingers the contractions of the heart.

Usually, when the researchers would repeat such stories, they would maintain a cool, professional detachment.  Only in the glance of an eye, the slightly raised brow, would they offer any normative comment; yet the comment, however politely passed, was always present: The homosexuals have gone too far.  Though the scientists were too considerate, too worldly, to charge homosexuality outright as a violation of nature, they offered a variant:  If you press the body beyond its limit as an organism, you will violate the rules of self-preservation.  It is within that ‘bionormative’ context that ‘safe sex’ – as a slogan, as an approved list of behaviors – was born.[lii]

What is the truth?  Where are the queer “Christian” boundaries?  What is the GBLTQ “God-given right to responsibly express their sexuality?”  As a last pitch to those gay and pro-gay “Christians,” who would persist in challenging and ignoring the authority and authenticity of the Leviticus Codes, this article ends with a quote from Catherine M. Wallace’s book, Accounting For Fidelity: How Intimacy and Commitment Enrich Our Lives.  She relates a story involving her young sons:

‘Does Daddy use condoms?’

I stopped grinding coffee beans and looked across the dark, November-morning kitchen at my eight-year-old son, who had set aside his raison toast with peanut butter…

‘Mark [fifth-grade] says - Mark says the teacher says if you don’t use condoms then you could both get sick and die.  So we want to know.  Does he? Every time?’[liii]


Copyright © 2008 StandForGod.Org


[i] Joe Dallas, A Strong Delusion: Confronting the “Gay Christian” Movement (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House, 1996), p.196.

[ii] Betty Berzon, ed., Positively gay, Third Edition, (Berkley: Celestial Arts, 2001), p.219


[iv] Ibid., p.218.

[v] Ibid., p.55.

[vi] Eric Marcus, The Male Couple’s Guide: Finding a Man, Making A Home, Building a Life, Third Edition,  (New York: HaperPerennial, 1988), pp.12 and 13.

[vii] Ibid., pp.13 and 14.

[viii] Larry Kramer, “GAY MEN WILL HAVE TO LIVE BY NEW RULES,” Seattle Post – Intelligencer, Seattle, Washington, December 14, 1997.

[ix] Sheryl Stolberg, “CULTURE: Some flout the orthodoxy of the past decade, saying the freedom to have many partners is the essence of liberation,” The New York Times; “Promiscuity and AIDS: Gays argue coexistence,” Orange County Register, Santa Ana, November 23, 1997.

[x] Larry Kramer, “GAY MEN WILL HAVE TO LIVE BY NEW RULES,” Seattle Post – Intelligencer, Seattle, Washington, December 14, 1997.

[xi] Betty Berzon, Permanent Partners: Building Gay & Lesbian Relationships That Last (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1988), p.232.

[xii] Ibid., pp.232 and 233.

[xiii] Cindy Patton, Sex & Germs ( Montreal:Black Rose Books, 1986), pp.135 and 136.

[xiv] Martin S. Weinberg, Colin J. Williams, Douglas W. Pryor, Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality (New York: Oxford Press, 1994), pp.240 and 241.

[xv] Ibid., p.246.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid., pp.246 and 247.

[xviii] Ibid., p.248.

[xix] Ibid., p.249.

[xx] Ibid., p.251.

[xxi] Ibid., p.252.

[xxii] Gabriel Rotello, Sexual Ecology: Aids and the Destiny of Gay Men (New York: Dutton,1997), p.235.

[xxiii] Ibid., p.235.

[xxiv] Ibid., p.236.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid., p.6.

[xxvii] Ibid., pp.9 and 10.

[xxviii] Michelangelo Signorile, Life Outside The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and the Passages of Life (New York: HarpersCollins, 1997), p.xxxi.

[xxix] Rotello, p.92.

[xxx] Ibid., p.100.

[xxxi] Ibid., p.101.

[xxxii] Ibid., pp.101 and 102.

[xxxiii] Ibid., p.102.

[xxxiv] Ibid., p.103.

[xxxv] Ibid., p.103.

[xxxvi] Ibid., pp.103 and 104.

[xxxvii] Frank Browning, The Culture of Desire (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), pp.84 and 85.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Rotello, p.105.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Ibid., p.106.

[xlii] Ibid., p.107.

[xliii] Ibid., pp.108 and 109.

[xliv] John J. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual ( Mission Kansas: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1976), pp.4 and 5.

[xlv] Rotello, pp.110 and 111.

[xlvi] Ibid., p.111.

[xlvii] Ibid., p.112.

[xlviii] Ibid., p.116.

[xlix] Ibid.

[l] Ibid., p.120.

[li] Ibid., p. 121.

[lii] Browning, p.84.

[liii] Catherine M. Wallace, Accounting For Fidelity: How Intimacy and Commitment Enrich Our Lives (New York: Knopf Publishers, 1998), p.3.