ANALYSIS OF DATA II

 
"The analytic moral is not to take situations or sayings for granted. It is important to question everything ... when we hear such a term as "sometimes," we want to explore the conditions that bring about "sometimes" and determine whether there are other situations that also produce "never" or "always" ... Over the years, they [people] seem to find strategies for managing or getting around many different types of situations. Certain words such as "never" and "always," are signals to take a closer look at the data. We must ask questions such as the following. What is going on here? What is meant by "never" or "always"? Never, under what conditions? How is a state of "never" maintained? By what strategies are persons able to circumvent it? What happens if a state of "never" is not maintained? That is, what if some unaware person breaks the interactional rules or taboos? Finally, we need to ask under what conditions the rules are likely to be broken and kept and what happens after that."

(My bold)

Anselm Strauss and Juliet Corbin.1

 

I believe my analysis of the data in this section provides crucial evidence in regards to my original hypothesis, either by way of confirmation or negation, and is critical to my evolving theory that has developed out of the original hypothesis. This is the most complex section in the analysis of data and it contains many subcategories that intersect and interact with the main category through both macro and micro conditions. Subcategories appear in the analysis in the following order although, in reality, some subcategories and the conditions that influence them are (in)dependently variable and unpredictably variable (in other words orthogonal - see my definition and use of this term in relation to the research project in 'Definition of Orthogonality' section of the Thesis notes), may be absent or present, may act at different times or simultaneously, working before, during, or after the sexual encounter:

1. Levels of self-esteem

2. Situational contexts

3. Communication and negotiation in sexual encounters

4. Assessment of risk

5. Levels of control in sexual encounters

6. The (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex

7. Intimacy, connection and trust in unsafe sex

8. Consequences of unsafe sex

 

I have tried to analyse these pathways in a concise and lucid manner, each subcategory having it's own interpretation which is followed at the end of the section by an overall interpretation of the data from this section. I wanted to know under what conditions and situational contexts unsafe sex took place in regards to self-esteem and body image ideals if at all and, as the quotation by Strauss and Corbin says above, I wanted to know by what strategies, for what reasons men were able to circumvent the taboo of unsafe sex and "under what conditions the rules are likely to be broken and kept and what happens after that." I understand that definitions of what is and is not safe in male2male sex varies from man2man and within men from one sexual encounter to another. As a respondent, John, has noted,

"Any time that John has sex outside the relationship, let alone in the relationship, he wonders about what is safe - cuts, sores - everyone draws a private personal line about where safety starts. Very rarely will your line correlate with someone else's line."2

I believe that this is true. What one man might see as safe for himself might be seen as totally unsafe by another man. I also believe that this line is fluid for many men in different sexual encounters. What a man might be prepared to do in one encounter he might not be prepared to do in another due to different situational contexts. What he sees as "safe" in situational contexts may well change due to different conditions. Overall, though, I believe that most gay men understand that having anal sex without a condom is the primary way that they believe they can contract the HIV virus and that they would understand the implications and possible consequences of this sexual interaction. Therefore, for the purposes of this analysis I will limit my definition of unsafe sex to men having anal male2male sex without a condom. In this section under footnote 3 I use a quotation to define the term 'masculinity' as used within the context of this research project including the Thesis notes.3

I note here that of primary importance in the link between body image, self-esteem and unsafe sex is the act of vision, the gaze and the look of desire. Desire for the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal in a sexual partner is predicated initially through the vision of that body image ideal.4 Visuality is the most important sense in human beings5 and I believe that sexual desire is based, first and foremost, upon the vision of that body which we desire. Vision mediates our desire, is the continually active fulcrum through which desire acts, a desire which of itself is not static and fixed but which may become static, fixed on the one body image ideal through constant vision of that form as the epitome of gay male desire. Desire for this fixed body image ideal, an embodiment through vision, may then be supported by numerous other conditions which supplement and influence the initial look of desire.

 

 

BODY IMAGE, SELF-ESTEEM AND (UN)SAFE SEX

 
From my analysis I have found that levels of self-esteem and desire for the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal has led to occurrences of unsafe sex within respondents. These occurrences were mediated by numerous interactional conditions which influence the linkage between body image, self-esteem and unsafe sex. The range of variability of these conditions that influences this category is large. Rarely was the link between body image, self-esteem and unsafe sex uncomplicated by numerous conditions, but in several cases I found that just the sight of a partner's body image that was close to the respondent's ideal led him to immediately want to do anything have sex with this ideal (including having unsafe sex), a decision that was influenced by, amongst other things, levels of personal self-esteem.

Most of the respondents that had unsafe sex with a body image 'ideal' stated that it was a combination of personal levels of self-esteem and desire for both the body image and personality of their partner that was of major importance in the occurrence of unsafe sex. Initially desire was formulated through vision of a body image 'ideal' but this was quickly supplemented by other considerations, such as a desire for their personality and a need for intimacy and connection through the physicality of their partner's body. The evidence in the data does suggest, however, that just the vision of an ideal body was enough to make some respondents want to do anything to have sex with that body, including having unsafe sex, but I believe this vision is always complicit with the signification of that image and what it stands for both culturally and individually, what it means to each respondent concerned through its representation of a supposed reality, i.e., through vision, the ideal body image might represent a figure of domination that reflects a desire for control by a father figure or, for some respondents the vision of a muscular mesomorphic ideal body image might signify for them the need for love and affection from the ideal through the embodiment of this image form.

Richard was a respondent who has fucked unsafely because, as he said, "The guy fitted Richard's ideal exactly in nearly every respect." In this particular case, Richard had a close friendship with his prospective partner for more than 12 months prior to their first sexual intercourse. Low self-esteem and desire for the guys body image are here combined in equal measure with other macro and micro conditions to bring about the occurrence of unsafe sex. Macro conditions include similar life experiences, things in common, getting on well together, both coming from rural areas to the city, friendship, and trust. Micro conditions include the consumption of chemicals, environment (his place), the physicality of his body and the passion and love in the sexual intercourse to name just a few. As Richard says he trusted the guy and "found what he had been missing in his life all in one package." In other words, both micro and macro conditions impacted on the category through Richard's desire, his historicity, his sexuality, his identity and his environmental context. Through a multifaceted desire for all aspects of this man including the physicality and masculinity of his body, Richard's self-esteem was boosted for a short period of time before the guy left to go away on holiday. Richard had no consideration for his own safety or life at all and after the first incidence of unsafe sex he did not really care - he gave himself completely to the shared experience of passion, lust, desire, love and security that he had been searching for all his life which counteracted his low self-esteem:

"Richard was 22: so was the guy. Both come from rural areas to the city, similar life experiences. Had quite a close friendship for 12 months before this happened. Richard had been attracted to him for this 12 months but was to afraid to say anything for fear of rejection. At a dance party in Melbourne, consumed quite an amount of chemicals, picked up a third member who thought they were an item together, and thought they might try and pull off a con - but this was a way
of getting together themselves. The friend of Richard's was a little bit taller, slim but muscular, smooth, perfect thighs - Getting very close to Richard's body image ideal. Back to his place, had a drink, comfortable, but eventually the other guy left as Richard and friend were paying so much attention to each other. Great sex - the guy mentioned to Richard that he was HIV+ but it went in one ear and out the other.
In Richard's bedroom they were smoking pipes, did a couple of more lines and fucking each other like rabbits. After the 3-4th condom, Richard can't remember who fucked who first without a condom. After the initial time of being unsafe all fucking was then unsafe for the next two days.

So they fucked unsafely because the guy fitted Richard's ideal exactly in nearly every respect. Trust - passion, lust, desire, security, love - Richard found what he had been missing in his life all in one package. Because he was already a friend he was familiar and they got on well. Richard's self-esteem was awful before it happened - the worst he had ever been about everything including body image and where his life as going. He felt dirty, unworthy of the love he was feeling or being given on this occasion. Such a need to have a positive experience after all the shit he had been going through that considerations for his own safety and life did not come into play. It was a conscious and subconscious decision and once it happened Richard didn't really care. The physicality of his body was soft and warm and close - what Richard had been waiting for all those years - also strong, solid and masculine. Knew what buttons to push. This experience boosted Richard's self-esteem a lot for a short period of time."6

Richard went and got tested 3 months after this weekend encounter, not because he wasfeeling unwell but because he felt it was time for an HIV test. Richard thinks he contracted the HIV virus from this guy. The consequences of micro and macro conditions on the categories of self-esteem, body image and unsafe sex could have a potentially fatal outcome for Richard in the future.

 

 

Subcategory: Levels of Self-esteem

 
From my analysis I have found that different levels of self-esteem (both local and overall) are equally likely to affect the incidence of unsafe sexual behaviour within the respondents. In other words, it did not matter whether the respondents had high or low levels of self-esteem in regards to their self or their body image, each was equally as likely to participate in a sexual interaction that involved unsafe sexual activity because of desire for a body image 'ideal'. There was, however, a small numerical prevalence of men with low self-esteem within the sample group to undertake unsafe sexual activity but I believe that this does not mean that people with low self-esteem are more likely to undertake unsafe sexual activity, just that the sample group was not large enough to provide more evidence of men with high self-esteem undertaking such activity.
I believe that self-esteem is a major factor in the incidence of unsafe sex but I also believe that it never acts alone, working as it does in conjunction with categories (such as body image desire) and other macro and micro conditions to influence what gay men are willing to do in a sexual encounter. I believe that a larger qualitative study of gay men that would address the issues surrounding self-esteem and unsafe sex would be of benefit in further research. The range of variability of levels of self-esteem that affected incidence of unsafe sex behaviour was from low to high self-esteem both generally and in regard to respondents body image. Some respondents noted that they were feeling good about their body at the time that the incidence of unsafe sex took place. In contrast another group of respondents undertook unsafe sexual activity because of low self-esteem in relation to themselves and their body image. Body image and self-esteem of other respondents, such as Caeli, depended on the approval of others (reflected appraisal) and in Caeli's case this approval was gained through sacrificially offering himself to his partner, because he desired his approval and because he wanted his affection, intimacy and enclosure.7

The range of variability of levels of self-esteem that affected the incidence of unsafe sexual activity is large. It ranged from low to high self-esteem with a slight prevalence towards those with low self-esteem in the sample group. Desire for body image ideals in a partner and overall self-esteem and local self-esteem (about body image) in respondents were major phenomena that influenced the occurrence of unsafe sexual activity. From the evidence presented in the data I believe that these phenomena act in combination with other micro and macro conditions to influence the occurrence of unsafe sexual activity. I believe that there is a major link between self-esteem and unsafe sex through the medium of the body and its image, and I do not believe,
"That self-esteem and unsafe sex are different realms of experience which are affected by different things and have separate effects in all but the most general terms."8

I believe that there is a strong connection between levels of generalised and local (body image in this example) self-esteem and the incidence of unsafe sexual activity in gay men. From my interpretation of the data I believe that generalised and local self-esteem are crucial factors in the specific circumstances under which a man has unsafe sex. I also found evidence in the data of a lack of care and concern on the part of some respondents as to their own health and well being due to levels of self-esteem. Phrases such as 'I would have done anything to have him, anything at all', 'Richard really didn't care', 'Not caring', 'Perhaps I was not strong enough at the time and didn't value my own person', and 'I just gave in to his needs completely and had not thought for myself at all' kept reappearing in different forms throughout the data, emphasising that levels of self-esteem do influence what gay men are prepared to do when having sex to the possible detriment of themselves and their health.

 

 

Subcategory: Situational Contexts

 
From my analysis I have found that for most respondents different situational contexts led to different interactions and outcomes in male2male sexual encounters. What a respondent was prepared to do in one sexual encounter they were not prepared to do in another sexual encounter because of various macro and micro conditions that impact upon the desire to have sexual intercourse with body image ideals. What a respondent was prepared to do in sex depended on,"The context in which the sex occurred, the particular person involved and the relationship between them."9 The range of variability was large. Some respondents said they would never have unsafe sex in any situation. Other respondents, such as Adam, said that they were, "Not prepared or willing to practice safe sex at all."10 But it was not just 'never' or 'always', black or white, but all the various shades of grey in-between. For example Chris, when having sex with a guy who did not fit his body image ideal and who wanted to be fucked without a condom, said no.

But what if the guy had a body close to his body image ideal? If the situational context had been different, then Chris thinks he would have had unsafe sex and not have worried at the time about the possible consequences of that interaction.11

Not only do interactions change from one situational context to another they also change within the same situational context over the time of that interaction, due to a change in the conditions. For example Gavin wears a condom when he is fucking another man but likes being fucked without a condom. This condition could happen within the same situational context with the same man over a period of time, as first Gavin does the fucking and then gets fucked himself.
"Usually when he is fucking someone else he wears a condom because it is a different euphoric state - you are in control rather than being the passive partner, which allows the passive to be more open to ecstatic experiences. When he's passive he goes on a journey, and a different journey when he is active."12
This example illustrates that the micro conditions of active/passive, euphoric states and ecstatic experiences, in control/out of control, all interact together to bring about different interactions and possible outcomes and consequences (different ecstatic states, possible HIV contraction).

The range of variability of different situational contexts on the occurrence of unsafe sexual activity was large. What one respondent was prepared to do in sex with one man in one context he would not do with another man in another context. These interactions can also change within the same situational context depending on the variable and fluid nature of both micro and macro conditions. Macro conditions could include the relationship between the two men, levels of self-esteem, the desire for each other including their body image, the willingness to perform safe or unsafe sex due to cultural imperatives and directives, the trust and intimacy between them, and the comfort of the environment that the interaction takes place in (home, sauna, beat, etc., ...), and the background of life history and experience that both men bring to such an interaction. Micro conditions might include such things as availability of condoms and lube at the time of the interaction, the size of a man's dick, the consumption of drugs and alcohol, the physicality of his body and the heat and passion of the moment, to name just a few. Because of different conditions present within every situational context, every situational context has the possibility that the participants could have unsafe sex.

I believe context is a vitally important fluid condition and environment within which sexual activity takes place. As John McLeod and Phil Nott have noted,
"There is mounting evidence to suggest that people have sex, and particularly unsafe sex, under quite specific circumstances. A generalised message (such as a poster for safe sex practices for example) in which the context of the sexual experience is irrelevant may not be meaningful or may not have an impact on the highly specific circumstances in which men have unsafe sex."13

 

Footnotes

1. Strauss, Anselm and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998, pp.98-99.

2. Interview with John, 43, 5'11", 11.5st, white, lower-middle class. Melbourne. 14/11/1997.

3. "The category of "masculinity" should be seen as always ambivalent, always complicated, always dependent on the exigencies (necessary conditions and requirements) of personal and institutional power ... [masculinity is] an interplay of emotional and intellectual factors - an interplay that directly implicates women as well as men, and is mediated by other social factors, including race, sexuality, nationality, and class ... Far from being just about men, the idea of masculinity engages, inflects, and shapes everyone."

Berger, Maurice and Wallis, Brian and Watson, Simon. Constructing Masculinity. Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1995, pp.3-7.

Author: Throughout the website and the Thesis notes I have used the above quotation as the basis for my definition of the term 'masculinity'.

4. "We choose and reject by action ... Nietzsche calls the body 'Herrschaftsgebilde' (creation of the dominating will). We may say the same about body-image. Since optic experience plays such an enormous part in our relation to the world, it will also play a dominating role in the creation of the body-image. But optic experience is also experience by action. By actions and determinations we give the final shape to our bodily self. It is a process of continual active development." (My bold).

Schilder, Paul. The Image and Appearance of The Human Body. New York: International Universities Press, 1950, pp.104-105.

5. For a discussion of the importance of vision in the twentieth century see Jay, Martin. Down cast eyes: The denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought. Berkeley: California University Press, 1993.

6. Interview with Richard, 27, 5'5", 61kg, white, retail, lower/middle-class. Melbourne. 16/10/1997.

7. Interview with Caeli, 22, 178cm, 70kg, white, middle-upper class. Melbourne. 25/06/1998.

8. McLeod, John and Nott, Phil. A Place to Belong. Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. Sydney: AFAO, 1994, p.51.

9. Ibid., p.45.

10. Interview with Adam, 29, 5'10", 105kg, white, no-class. Melbourne. 12/11/1997.

11. Interview with Chris, 29, 170cm, 78kg, South American, engineer, middle-class. Melbourne. 09/10/1997.

12. Interview with Gavin, 34, 6', 70kg, white, middle-class. Melbourne. 03/11/1997.

13. McLeod, John and Nott, Phil. A Place to Belong. Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. Sydney: AFAO, 1994, p.21.