Porn sequences that include penises invariably end with “the money shot.” It doesn’t matter whether the cock in question is in a queer or heterosexual scene, the visual image of ejaculation comes (ha) with the package (ha ha).
For a lot of people, this is degrading or disgusting but not everyone agrees with that assessment. The “money shot” can be used to humiliate or degrade someone but so can a pair of chopsticks and some rubber bands and some people really enjoy that aspect. Other people really enjoy being able to interact with their partner’s orgasm in such a visceral way and don’t experience humiliation or degradation at all in the process. A larger bulk of pornographers will probably tell you that the “money shot” is quintessential because porn is about the production of sexual images. Images of external ejaculation create a tangible manifestation of pleasure. As a sexual and perverted person, I really like to collect as much evidence of my partner’s presence and enjoyment of our encounter. I do like the “money shot” whether it is coming from a penis or a pussy. I want to see my partner’s pleasure in as many ways as I can. I relish their orgasmic fluids the way that I relish the way their eyes close and flutter or the way that I can pull them close and literally feel their moans resonate in my own chest.
My personal enjoyment of external ejaculation aside, I’m happy to see it in porn for another reason. When someone pulls out to ejaculate on their partner, they reduce their partner’s risk for a sexually transmitted infection.
But wait a minute! I’m also a huge proponent of condom use and even perfect condom use doesn’t eliminate all of the risks involved in a sexual encounter. How can I go on the record and call the money shot a form of harm/risk reduction when it doesn’t work nearly as well as a barrier? By making this claim, am I putting more people at risk?
After 6 years of testing, counseling, and informing people of their HIV status I strongly support any action that someone takes to reduce their risk. Harm reduction works on a giant spectrum and there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to human behavior. It took me years in the field to realize that I wasn’t helping anyone by making consistent condom use my objective during my client’s counseling session. It was my job to help my client identify any tool that they had in their possession to reduce their own personal risk for HIV but for a long time I wasn’t doing that. Whenever a client told me that they didn’t use condoms during sex, I would try to negotiate or work something out to make condom use easier for them. I would give them a giant bag of condoms for free. We would role play a partner negotiation. I would offer up exciting or sexy ways to include a barrier during sex. I gave people free condom carrying cases. I tried to help clients form a plan for those nights when they knew they would go out and get drunk or high and then fuck. I tried a million of things too numerous to list here.
It didn’t matter how creative, innovative, or persuasive I was during a counseling session if the client ultimately decided not to use a barrier during sex. When push came to shove, I hadn’t done anything to immediately reduce their risk for HIV. I was doing harm reduction wrong. I was trying to push my own agenda to get people to wear condoms rather than actually listening to my client when they told me, “I don’t use condoms.”
There are far more reasons why we don’t wear barriers during sex than there are reasons why we do. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got 99 problems and sexual fluids actually account for very few of them. We all have a lot of good reasons not to wear condoms and we sure as hell don’t gain anything from punishing people when they don’t. If anything we increase our risk because we’ve taken actions that increase the total number of infections that we might be exposed to at some point. We might not use condoms because maybe we get tested frequently, maybe our partner is just really cute tonight, maybe we’re drunk, maybe we ran out of condoms, maybe our hands were too slippery to open the damn wrapper, maybe we’re trading sex for food or a safe place to crash for the night, maybe having condoms on our person is grounds for our arrest, maybe our partners will hurt us if we request a condom, maybe we don’t like the way they feel at all, maybe barebacking is so taboo it becomes erotic for us. Whenever I heard someone who was actually brave enough to tell me, their HIV test counselor, that they didn’t use condoms it was always my immediate objective to start initiating a brainstorming session on how to begin integrating condoms into their sex life. It wasn’t until I had a client who stopped me mid-sentence and said, “spare me the lecture, I’ve heard it a million times. You’re nice and all, but I don’t like them and I’m not going to wear them. I just want to get my HIV test.”
It is always the right of the client to terminate a counseling session and I will always respect that. At the same time, I do have the obligation to try.
From an epidemiological stand point, it is imperative that we take whatever steps are necessary to reduce the number of new infections. As it stands we have a ton of amazing options for safer sex many of which are designed around sexual activities that are already very low (and sometimes even theoretical) risk for HIV and other STI’s. What we lack are options for people who do not, for whatever reason, use barriers during sex. Acts, not identities or demographics, are the actual sources of infection. Those who engage in high risk sex acts who do not use barriers are at the highest risk for HIV and other STI’s.
It was then that I realized that it was my job as a risk reduction specialist to provide options for people to take their risk–whatever it is–and reduce it. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours in harm reduction training over 6 years but harm reduction as a philosophy can be summed up in just three words: any positive change. Anything that you can do to reduce your harm, no matter how small, is a positive step. We don’t make major behavioral change in leaps in bounds, we do it in steps. Giant sweeping change tends to overwhelm us (how are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions?) because we’re creatures of habit. We make changes gradually and sometimes we slip up but that’s part of the process. Black and white thinking clouds things and makes change seem impossible. After experiencing failure, many if not most of us feel inclined to just give up. We were doing so well on that diet but we ate a few too many cookies. Might as well eat the rest, right? We obviously can’t handle being on a diet so why even bother? Rather than putting all of the emphasis on the negative, it can be helpful to think of positive things that you are doing already and build on them. Humans (and pretty much most other mammals) respond better to positive reinforcement. When we accomplish a goal, we feel good about ourselves and the next step feels like it is in reach. When there is a massive stretch of space between where we are and where we want to be it’s easy to feel like you’re never going to arrive.
From that point on, when a client told me that they didn’t use condoms I asked follow up questions to ascertain what they were doing already to reduce their risk even if the only thing I could obviously identify was the fact that they were sitting in my office getting an HIV test. Just coming in to get tested regularly is a positive behavior change and one that is important to reinforce. Then I would ask them more questions about what their life situation was like. In many ways it felt like being in mission control headquarters during Apollo 13. The situation: there are astronauts that want to fuck but they’re trapped in space and there are no condoms. They aren’t there, there is nothing they can do to acquire them, and they don’t have access to anything that can act as a barrier for sexual fluids. What do you do?
Latex barriers are effective because they block the exchange of fluids. Anything that you can do to reduce your contact with sexual fluids reduces you risk. Ye Olde Pullout method is frequently the butt of jokes as one of the least effective forms of protection against anything but it’s vital to understand that that as flawed as pulling out might be it is far, far, far more effective than an unused condom. In the sex positive community, we have embraced barriers and they’re fantastic! I’m a huge fan of them myself. I don’t think we should stop or slow down on teaching people how to access condoms and barriers and use them effectively. Giving people a wider range of options does not necessitate taking options away. You just add them into the giant love buffet of resources and help people identify which resource is best for them and their circumstances. Harm reduction is about helping guide an individual’s cost-benefit analysis and we all have a unique set of needs, circumstances, and desires.
We can’t hold abstinence up as a golden standard of behavior and dismiss all other options because they aren’t as effective. We can’t hold perfect condom use up as a golden standard and dismiss all options because they aren’t as effective, either. A condom is only as good as you use it. There needs to be more education and resources for people who aren’t using condoms because there’s a global epidemic going on and we need to reduce the total number of global HIV infections any which way we can. If everyone who was having bareback sex right now decided to pull out and come all over their partner’s ass, back, chest, hair, feet, hands, wall paper, pillow, alarm clock or wherever else they can think of it will reduce the total number of infections that occur. This is because it reduces the risk of serum transmission through mucous membranes. The skin on our body is tough and solid and it creates a barrier against HIV and the millions of other germs we come into contact with everyday of our lives that never get the opportunity to actually infect us.
To reiterate: I’m not advocating abandoning any barrier awareness campaigns or reducing the amount of time we spend on them. If anything, we need more. One thing that you will find consistent in my ideology is that I am always in favor of more options rather than less. At the same time, we cannot espouse a barrier-only model of sex education for the same reasons we cannot espouse an abstinence-only model of sex education either. We cannot skip over questions about options for safer sex outside of barrier use during our presentations and workshops. We cannot dismiss the scientific evidence that demonstrates that external ejaculation does objectively reduce the transmission risk for HIV and some other STI’s just because it was a teenager who asked the question. It is never acceptable to mislead people about science in order to scare them into adopting certain practices. It is the job of sex educators to provide facts and you can’t omit some because you would rather be safe than sorry. Everyone is entitled to accurate information. We know that when we inflate the failure rate of condoms, people are less likely to use them. When we inflate the failure rate for external ejaculation, individuals who are not using condoms are less likely to make use of it as a way to protect themselves. Furthermore, every time we dodge or avoid talking about the reasons that external ejaculation reduces the risk for HIV and some STI’s we are actively obscuring our audience’s understanding of what these bacteria and viruses are and how they work.
We all need to check our agendas from time to time. I’m not going to lie, the times when I’ve done HIV prevention workshops for youth I’ve felt really awkward and uncomfortable when someone asks me questions about pulling out not because I’m afraid of arming teens with accurate information but because people with moral agendas about sex viciously attack people who answer questions honestly, objectively, and without a personal bias. You can see it in Margaret Brook’s attack against comprehensive sex education in universities. She relies on this fallacy that self-identified sex positive, pro-porn, and even porn-neutral people are coming up with all of the dangerous sexy (or is it sexy dangerous?) ideas in the world and forcing them upon otherwise chaste people. For virtually every single one of her arguments, sex must always be completely unnatural and alien to humanity. This is not the case.
You can also see this same sex fearing mindset in the recent “undercover” videos of Planned Parenthood which are based in some truly contrived self-righteous outrage about the fact that teens under the of 18 do have legal access to reproductive healthcare. These videos “caught” Planned Parenthood explaining the legal services that they provide and their role as mandatory reporters which they did follow up on by reporting the suspected sex trafficking to the FBI. One employee was fired as a result of these videos because their words and actions did not match the goals and mission of Planned Parenthood. In order to be shocked by these videos you would have to be shocked by the fact that teens have sex and ergo have sexual healthcare needs.
These attacks are nothing but smears. They’re not based in medicine, they’re not based on real statistics, they’re not based in any kind of objective information whatsoever.
Margaret Brooks equates any type of sex positive sex education to be pornographic in nature and then equates pornography to an evil monolithic demon from which all of our dark and degrading desires emerge. I am not even speaking in hyperbole here, Margaret Brooks has the terror of a five year old in the middle of the night afraid that there’s a monster under the bed. Margaret Brooks has not only fought to censor sex educators, she has also fought to censor satirical musicians. [Note: Necro the Sexorcist is a rapper known for his outrageous and over the top depictions of drugs, sex, and violence as a satire of his experiences. Although his music is far from being what we might call “family appropriate” the sheer number of times that he winks and nudges his audience is pretty apparent.] Ultimately, Margaret Brooks has difficulty realizing that the problems that invade our sexualities are the same problems that invade every other sphere of our life. Our entire culture is based on a structure of unearned privilege. To acknowledge that would mean acknowledging the ways that we’ve benefited at the expense of others. Battles for social justice do sometimes take place on sexual war fields. They are the same battles happening in education, the justice system, healthcare, and our economy. It’s really uncomfortable to realize that your privilege may differently fluid from another’s.
When Margaret Brooks, Gail Dines, or Donna M. Hughes attack sexuality they are no different than a kitten attacking reflections in the mirror. Even in the rare occasion when the kitten does manage to topple the mirror, still looming behind them is the source, unscathed.