From my analysis I have found that the range of variability of levels of control in unsafe sexual encounters is large. The variability range of levels of control in unsafe sexual encounters spanned from 'did not loose control' to 'lost control' of the situation and various combinations of both positions, although the significant majority of respondents noted that they had lost control of the situation when unsafe sex occurred. Contributing to this control/loss of control where a variety of macro and micro conditions that influenced the interactions that took place within the sexual encounter.
For respondent Ben, both macro and micro conditions (especially his drug consumption and his desire to possess, admire and feel union with his partner's body) were present that influenced his levels of control that ultimately led to his loss of control within the sexual encounter and what interactions occurred within that encounter,
"Yes, it [unsafe sex] has occurred and has been a combination of the time, place, drugs, person and the feelings and emotions involved ('conditions') ... The partners fitted his body image ideal or close to it and he desired them. No communication about having unsafe sex - it just happened. In the times that he has fucked unsafely it was a question of not wanting to have unsafe sex - it just happened. Ben wanted to be a part of them by fucking them - possession and mutual admiration. Wanted to feel a union (with or without a condom). A lot of its drugs and loosing control of the situation - desiring to be inside this other body."1
From the analysis of data it would seem that desire and lust for the physicality
of the partner's body was a major factor in the levels of control exhibited
by the respondents in the sexual encounter. Within the data there were
also several examples of respondents who were in relationships over a
longer period of time having low levels of control in unsafe sexual encounters,
loosing control in these sexual encounters due to the influence of various
macro and micro conditions. These conditions included desire for the partner's
body image, physicality and personality but also included such conditions
as abuse, money, environment, age, experience and the negotiation of power
within the relationship. For Stuart there was the desire for and abuse
by his partner, and the paradox between the two.
For Michael, the loss of control that lead to unsafe sex may have been
caused by the difficulty he had in negotiating power from a position of
equality within the relationship. This loss of control may have been influenced
by Michael's vulnerability and the degree of trust that he placed in his
partner. Michael felt he had no control due to such conditions as age,
environment (Michael had moved in with his partner), experience, low overall
self-esteem, low body image self-esteem and lack of money. Realisation
of his position in relationship to these conditions may have led to him
eventually realising that he was being exploited and violated through
unsafe sexual activity. The first time he had unsafe sex his partner said
they could trust each other - Michael did not have a test and the other
guy said he had been tested. His partner said he wanted unsafe sex because
he said it felt better because it was more physical.
Physically and visually it is usually the active male that is seen to
be in control in a sexual encounter, but in this case control has willingly
passed from the active partner to the passive partner because of conditions
such as David's levels of experience, his low self-esteem, his desire
for a relationship, and the lack of availability of young Caucasian sexual
partners for Asian males. Unlike many respondents David did not claim
that loss of control happened 'in the heat of the moment', the justification
that many respondents used to explain the loss of control that lead to
unsafe sexual activity in a sexual encounter. Only one respondent, Marcus,
stated that his level of control was high in a sexual encounter
in which unsafe sex occurred, that he did not loose control of the situation.
Even though Marcus still wanted to take in the physicality of his partner
through the passion and energy (heat) of the moment, here the action was
almost planned according to the respondent and 'in the heat of the moment'
was not used as a justification for his actions or the level of his control.
Although the range of variability of levels of control in unsafe sexual
encounters among the respondents was large (varying from 'in control'
to 'lost control') I found that the overwhelming majority of the respondents
felt that they had low levels of control in a sexual encounter in which
unsafe sex occurred and had lost control of the situation. This loss of
control was due to a variety of conditions but I believe one of the main
conditions to be possession through desire of the respondent.
As one respondent said, "Lust has a lot to answer for."
The above quotation and the evidence of the data raises the question as to whether the loss of control in sexual encounter can ever be justified and defended by such phrases as 'it just happened', 'in the heat of the moment', or 'you are just there and you do it'. Is the loss of control that leads to fucking without a condom the result of a subconscious or a conscious decision to have unsafe sex, or is it a combination of both the conscious and the subconscious that influences the interactions of the participant involved in the sexual encounter? Does desire for the partner and their body image impact on levels of control gay men exhibit in sexual encounters, and the decision (whether conscious, subconscious or both) to allow unsafe sex to occur? Personally I believe that many conditions affect the (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex which then has a profound effect upon levels of control that occurs prior to or during the sex act. Conversely, I also believe that levels of control that gay men exhibit in sexual encounters (influenced by such conditions as desire for the partner and their body image) do influence the (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex by a gay man. (The issue of a (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex I will address in further detail in the next subcategory).
It is enough for me to comment here that I believe the evidence in the respondents data shows that a (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex because of levels of self-esteem and a desire for a partner's body image does have a major impact on the degree of control that respondents exhibit during a sexual encounter. Here it is really important to note the connection between lack of intimacy in gay men and the fear of loosing control - as happens in instances of unsafe sex when the lid of their emotions is blown off. The paradox is that gay men both desire intimacy and fear the loss of control that it may bring at one and the same time. Through emotional intimacy gay men may begin to feel themselves and their partners and attain a level of connection that is otherwise lacking in everyday life but with this intimacy comes the fear of loosing control6 of the self, of others, and of situational contexts such as sexual encounters. Being sexually aroused and liberated from normal states of existence has an affect on the boundaries of the body and of the cognitive aspects of a persons reasoning which may lead to a loss of control during a sexual encounter. Experiencing 'connection' may become a validation of their lives, for however brief a moment, and this can lead to a loss of self control and a loss of rational thought which, when (sub)consciously acted upon, may lead to the incidence of unsafe sex. (Please see the subcategory on 'Intimacy, connection and trust' for more information on the effects of intimacy on gay men).
In this subcategory I offer some insight into the respondents (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex in male 2 male sexual encounters and the processes of desire that informs the decision. Within the website and Thesis notes I use the term '(sub)conscious' written in this form to mean a combination of both the conscious and the subconscious mind. From my analysis I found that the range of variability of consciousness present in the decision to have unsafe sex during male2male sexual encounters is large. The range of variability varied from the respondent saying his decision to have unsafe sex in a male2male sexual encounter was either a wholly subconscious decision to a wholly conscious decision, moving along a broad spectrum of possible combinations of both types of consciousness; from initially being a subconscious decision to becoming a conscious one or vice versa within the same sexual encounter. In any situational context this (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex by the respondents was influenced by the presence of, and interaction with, various macro and micro conditions, such as a desire for the personality, the ideal body image, the dick size and the need for intimacy and connection with the partner. In other words there was a fluidity present in the (sub)conscious decision of the respondents to have unsafe sex that was influenced by many factors. This may include subliminal ("adj. present though unknown to conscious mind; too weak, small or rapid to be consciously noticed")7 impulses and desires that are neither recognised as conscious or subconscious by the respondents but which I believe may act upon a general consciousness which then affects their consequent actions.
Respondent Gavin noted that his decision to have unsafe sex was a subconscious
decision influenced (subconsciously or consciously at the time?) by such
conditions as his levels of self-esteem, his attraction and desire for
his partner's body image and their personality, their dick size, and the
lack of communication about the use of condoms. Gavin's post-coital verbalisation
of these (sub)conscious influences could be seen as his rationalisation
of these influences, as justifications for what happened in the encounter
after the event. As Gavin says, "The mind is switched off to
all warnings." Switched off to all warnings perhaps, but not
to the (sub)conscious influence of desire, flirtation, flattery, body
image, physicality, and the size of the partner's penis! In his passionate
desire to be with them he blindly trusts them and consciously lets himself
go, but if Gavin's conscience is pricked, if he becomes aware that he
is crossing the taboo of unsafe sex and he feels guilty in these actions,
then, as he says, "Safe sex will occur"
because his mind becomes conscious to the warnings about the possible
consequences of his actions. (I will discuss justifications
for actions and guilt emanating from those actions in greater detail in
the later 'Consequences of unsafe sex'
Does this mean that 'possession through desire' is a subconscious or a
conscious state of being that negates the conscious reality checks of
safe sex? Is desire ever just a subconscious state of being? Personally,
I do not think so. In general I believe that when we desire something
we have to have consciously thought about what we desire prior to that
thought of desire seemingly emanating from the subconscious at the time.
For example, if I desire beautiful cars then within my identity there
is the general condition of desiring beautiful cars even though I do not
know I will desire a specific model until I see it for the first time.
This particular model can awaken my desire for the first time even though
that desire is based on a more general understanding that I like all beautiful
cars. Another example would be that of falling in love. The general rule
is that people do not fall in love on first sight, because love is built
up from a recognition of all aspects of that person fitting the (sub)conscious
desires of the person who falls in love. When people do fall in love 'on
first sight' perhaps it is because subliminal desires awaken, perhaps
for the first time, a passionate longing to love the other person for
seemingly unknown reasons which are, in fact, based on generalised sets
of desires built up over many years which form part of that person's overall
identity which, of course includes his subconscious.
From my analysis of the interview data I found that the range of variability of consciousness present in the respondents decision to have unsafe sex during male2male sexual encounters is large, ranging from what the respondents said was just a conscious decision to what they said was just a subconscious decision with various combinations of both consciousness' in-between. Most of the respondents who said they had unsafe sex because of levels of self-esteem and desire for body image ideals made it quite clear that they thought their decision to have unsafe sex was a subconscious decision but from my analysis of the interview data I believe that the decision to have unsafe sex is never just a conscious or a subconscious decision but always a (sub)conscious decision, a decision made by a combination of both the conscious and subconscious minds. This decision is influenced by the presence of many macro and micro conditions which vary under different situational contexts, from person to person. I believe this is a very complex philosophical area of concern that has important implications in the (sub)conscious decision of gay men to have unsafe sex for it involves the interactions of the conscious and the subconscious which varies from person to person; furthermore I believe that the effect of personal levels of self-esteem and desire for the ideal body image of a partner are initiated into the actual physical action of unsafe sex through the mental process that is the (sub)conscious decision to have unsafe sex.
I believe that 'possession through desire' is a crucial
condition in the (sub)conscious decision of the respondents to have unsafe
sex. The critical question is whether desire can be awakened only by the
needs of the subconscious mind which therefore makes the respondents decision
to have unsafe sex only a subconscious decision, or whether desires are
formulated in the conscious mind at an earlier stage in the historicity
of the respondent and the formation of their identity and these conscious
desires then influence the supposedly subconscious decision of the respondents
to have unsafe sex. I believe it is the latter case. I believe that conscious
thinking about these desires may take place weeks, months or years before
a specific sexual encounter and form part of a gay men's identity. I think
that these conscious thoughts embedded as desires within an identity may
then influence and interact with the seemingly subconscious decision to
have unsafe sex 'in the heat of the moment' which allows unsafe sex to
proceed, much as I believe that 'off-line' (ie., everyday) thinking about
what a gay man desires is embedded in his identity and may influence and
interact with 'on-line' (ie., during sex) thinking to a significant degree,
both lines of thinking acting together to allow unsafe sex to proceed.
As Judith Butler has said of the 'materialities' of the body so I believe
the same can be said of the subconscious and conscious minds.
believe that both the subconscious and the conscious are defined and affirmed
in their existence through interpretative matrices and are dependent on
certain conditions of understanding (both individual and cultural) for
their definition, that enable them to operate but which, conversely, limit
their very field of operation. Both the subconscious and the conscious
have a history and historicity that is constituted by boundary lines that
are both inclusive and exclusive at one and the same time. Both the conscious
and the subconscious overlap and interact in their hierarchical relations
of discourse and power which may cause one state of mind to have power
over the other, to be in control in certain contextual situations, but
I believe that relations between the two categories are always in a state
of flux dependent on the variable overlappings and shifting boundaries
of the categories and the priorities of the person involved. This produces
a contested area between the subconscious and the conscious that challenges
the boundaries of both, influences the interactions of one upon the other,
and then affects the (sub)conscious decision by the respondents to have
unsafe sex in this example. In the interactions between the conscious
and subconscious, conscious thoughts may be deliberately put away by the
individual who becomes oblivious their warnings, but this does not mean
that the conscious thoughts are not present, only that they have been
relegated in importance by the person concerned under these particular
circumstances. When talking to respondent Anthony, he wondered how any
gay man could not be conscious of when his unclad cock was going into
an arse hole, or when an unclad cock was going up your arse. You visually
see it and you sensuously feel it; even if you don't see it you still
can feel it. The feeling of an unclad cock going up your arse is totally
different from one that has a condom on it; one is rubber and the other
is flesh and you can tell the difference. Of course you have to be aware
that there is a difference and what that difference is; some gay men are
not so well informed and are not so skilled in fucking to be able to tell
the difference. But the question still remains, under what circumstances
do gay men not consciously know, have not seen or felt that they are about
to have or are having unsafe sex?
1. Interview with Ben, 27, 6'2", 86kg, Greek, middle-class. Melbourne. 15/10/1997.
2. Interview with Stuart, 29, 5'7", 11st, white, middle-class. Melbourne. 18/11/1997.
3. Interview with David, 26, 169 cm, 50kg, Malaysian/Chinese, middle-class. Melbourne. 15/10/1997.
4. Interview with Marcus, 27, 6'2", 74kg, Chinese, medical graduate, middle-class. Melbourne. 15/10/1997.
5. McLeod, John and Nott, Phil. A Place to Belong. Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. Sydney: AFAO, 1994, pp.37-38.
The Dangers of Intimacy: "d. The Fear of Loss
Hatfield, Elaine and Sprecher, Susan. Mirror, Mirror: The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986, pp.330-335.
7. Hill, Robert. Dictionary of Difficult Words. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1993, p.314.
8. Interview with Marcus, 27, 6'2", 74kg, Chinese, medical graduate, middle-class. Melbourne. 15/10/1997.
9. "The philosopher Schopenhauer defined the non-material, non-conceptual and experience outside all possibility of time and space as the noumenal. He argued that we can have no real knowledge of our inner self because we can never 'know' it as such; we can only have real 'knowledge' of something if there is something to be grasped and something to grasp it and this only exists in the 'phenomenal' world - the world of causal relationships, the world of material substances, the world of phenomena. He illustrated that the greater part of our inner lives are repressed, because to challenge our idealised image of ourselves would be to disturb the boundaries of personality, ego and identity."
Bunyan, Marcus. Trans(a)gressions and the Body-Image. Unpublished paper from the 2nd National Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Health Conference, Melbourne, 22-24th January 1998, p.1. For a discussion of Schopenhauer's idea of the 'noumenal' please see Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997, pp.405-406.
10. Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp.66-67.