Ed Note: This essay was first posted about a year ago on Fetlife.com and specifically applies to safety issues around play that involves blood product, such as play-piercing and cutting play.
As a needle top, I no longer try to avoid contracting or spreading HIV, and I don’t think you should either. Beyond that, I’m going to go one step further and argue that even thinking about HIV makes us, the people we play with, and other people who play in the same spaces as us less safe.
Bet I’ve got your attention now.
Too often I see other tops, or dungeon planners for that matter, cutting corners or engaging in high-risk behaviors that they justify on the basis of HIV’s particular characteristics, especially its renowned frailty. Here is a list of things I have seen just in the past thirty days: Blood drinking between non-fluid bonded partners (“HIV doesn’t live long in saliva or the stomach”), a dungeon not offering stretcher sheets for a blood-play area, a dungeon providing kitchen-grade cleaning wipes for a blood-play area (again based on “HIV is fragile”), simple rubbing alcohol used for a play piercing class (a pet peeve of mine), and a piercing specialist moving a sharps container with his bare hands before unscrewing his water bottle and taking a drink.
Perhaps all these things are acceptable under peoples’ personal concepts of RACK in the context of HIV. However, HIV isn’t the only Big Bad Wolf trying to blow down our house anymore. When it comes to fragility, if HIV is a wheezing asthmatic, Hepatitis C is an opera singer. And Hep C can be one bad motherfucker.
It is exactly because Hep C is so tough that I don’t think HIV should be anywhere in our minds when designing safety protocols for our play anymore. HIV is a distraction. Do not get me wrong. I’m a queer guy who came out in the early 90’s, I remember when the Plague was an imminent death sentence, not a chronic illness, and it’s no walk in the damn park now. HIV scares the crap out of me, and I’m not trying to minimize the pain of anyone who lives with the disease or has lost loved ones to it.
But that doesn’t change my point. Worrying about HIV makes us less safe. Because of HIV’s “frailty,” safety protocols that reduce or prevent the spread of Hep C are completely effective against HIV, but the reverse is not true at all. If we plan for the resilience of Hepatitis C we will better protect ourselves and those we share space with not only from Hep C but also from HIV and other blood born illnesses.
Safer play starts not with a change of technique, but with a change of perspective.