Interaction between human beings depends on what Erving Goffman calls 'facework'. This involves not just the face but the whole body used as a tool of communication. Facework is used to judge the intentions of others, whether hostile or otherwise. Human beings also use facework to uphold positions and lifestyles within society and to confirm their status - the term 'saving face' is a perfect example of how this phenomenon is used when your position in society is threatened. But when a gay man enters a sauna or goes to a beat, his normal 'face' can, to some extent, be left behind. Perhaps being anonymous in such a venue or location allows the gay man to undertake certain actions (unsafe sex) which are outside his normal 'face'.
gay saunas most men are there to look for sex so the possibility of a
hostile (re)action towards sexual advances is reduced. In these locations
the gay man is freed from the 'normal' moral restraints that govern his
actions in society. The provision against strong emotions such as lust
in society may also be diminished in these environments, especially when
the gay man is on drugs or alcohol. Potentially liberating experiences
are available to him, but these experiences can lead him into danger when
control of a sexual encounter is lost due to various conditions. I suggest
that taking a 'risk'
in having unsafe sex may be the enacted form of a liberated 'facework',
an enactment that can have far reaching consequences for a gay man in
terms of HIV contraction.
Through casual sexual encounters some gay men have to constantly reaffirm their own self worth through a pleasurable intimacy and connection (ideally with a man who 'fits' their body image 'ideal' but if this is not available an-'other' body coming close can be substituted), a connection that may then be immediately severed. They may become addicted to a search for pleasure and intimacy through the medium of having sex with these bodies, seeking out validation for their lives through their sexual experiences. This addiction to pleasure is not a reinvention of new pleasures but a repetition of the same type of pleasure enacted through a desire for established stereotypes. Other possible problems raised by liberating sexual experiences may include issues of power, control, abuse, taking risks, low or high self-esteem, compulsive sexual behaviour, lack of communication skills & unsafe sex. In the following pages I look at some of these issues in greater depth.