As we near the end of the semester, we are studying more and more recent events, even entering the 21st century. While it is very interesting and fun to look at our world in a more scholarly, analytical lens, it can also be scary. Reading about the intense debates regarding what to do about the HIV/AIDS epidemic can definitely be discouraging, because it was so recent and still partially on-going. But looking into the past can help us see how we arrived at the sexual climate of today’s America, hopefully learning from the actions of the past, as recent as it may be.
Jennifer Brier’s chapter, “Early AIDS Activism and the Legacy of Gay Liberation” gives us a broad spectrum on people’s opinions on the new AIDS crisis and how to properly address and deal with it. Overall though, the epidemic was not handled with nearly enough urgency and attention as it should have been, due to the fact that it primarily (but not entirely) affected homosexual and IV-drug using communities. If this epidemic affected the white, middle-class, heterosexual community, there would have certainly been more attention to it. But regardless, the debate at the time was mostly about how promiscuity should fit into the gay community after the epidemic broke out. One doctor wrote, “Promiscuity is a considerable health hazard”, (Brier, 24) but many gay men shared the belief that their promiscuity was part of their homosexuality. “Being gay means doing what I want sexually” (Brier, 34). The most compelling argument I found from this chapter was that in order to help reduce the AIDS epidemic, putting love back into sex would allow sexual partners to see each other not simply as just something to have sex with, but as actual people whose lives could be changed (and potentially put in danger) by having sex with them. This attitude also helped unite the gay community at the time; by identifying each other as a brother or just fellow human with actual feelings and a delicate health, people could actively start caring for others and realize that this terrible disease could be passed on to anyone at anytime. The issue regarding that attitude was that a lot of gay men were aware of the epidemic but did not think it would happen to them. At the same time, gay men had been going through a lot of discrimination and STDs were arguably not the scariest thing they were experiencing. “Many young gay men outside of cities had no concept of sex without danger– of being found out, disgraced, arrested, beaten up, etc. STIs were just one more thing to be added to a long list.” (Briar, 15).
Flash forward to today. Perhaps we 21st centurians could take a hint from those in the 80s to put love back into sex. The rise of internet dating has pushed dating to be less about forging an actual connection and more about the instant gratification of it all– most prevalent on mobile dating apps, like Tinder. As Nancy Jo Sales wrote in Vanity Fair, “People used to meet their partners through proximity, through family and friends, but now Internet meeting is surpassing every other form.” The convenience of it all is incredibly alluring. Instead of having to get dressed up, feeling the butterflies in your stomach, and actually meeting someone at a restaurant, dating can be anywhere now– laying in bed, on the bus, in class, while going out with friends, all without having to actively interact with potential partners face-to-face. As opposed the entire sexual history of the US that we have discussed all semester, the internet has never been involved, especially not at the extent that it is today. It is hard to really understand and analyze something as you are actively living through it, but just as some advocated putting love and mutual respect and caring back into sex in the 80s, I advocate for putting those things back into dating.
Brier, Jennifer. Infectious ideas: U.S. political responses to the AIDS crisis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Sales, Nancy Jo. “Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”.” Vanity Fair, September 2015.