For Sexual Health Week 2017 we asked community members to share their experiences of exploring pleasurable sex and how sexual health provisions have supported them along the way. In Patrick's own words, he talks about how writing openly and honestly about his sex life has led to education in the bedroom around undetectability and HIV transmission.
Patrick Ettenes is serial writer covering many personal experiences including documenting his dementia diagnosis and living positively with HIV. He is unapologetic in his approach to love and passion, campaigning for HIV and dementia visibility.
I’ve not written for LGBT Foundation since OutNorthWest magazine ended it publication, which was a good while ago. Anyway, I’m back, and for a brief article, I’ve been asked to write about how my writing over the years has empowered HIV positive people to have better sex. WOW, I know, and for those who know me, sex is a massive topic for me, so I can admit a lot here, so brace yourself, I’m about to tell you how my work in the last 7 years, has done just that.
Quick synopsis: In the last 7 years, and especially here in Manchester, I’ve expressed my life through words - I openly discuss my HIV status, and I sucked up a lot of publicity. In particular, I used these platforms to discuss undetectability - something that many people weren’t aware of and it was important to fight the stigma of talking about having sex with HIV positive people. I showed them that I had a more comfortable and confident better sex life as a result of it. You see, I was open about who I was, stating my status on Grindr. This of course brought a mixed response, but I was prepared, that due to my articles, people would see me online and ask questions. People asked about my sex life and some of them were fortunate enough to experience it in action themselves.
I had many people say how my work helped them, especially those in doubt of finding love when newly diagnosed - How to manage a diagnosis, how to deal with stigma, and how disclosure can affect relationships. For many people, this was the first time they had chance to speak to someone who had a public platform, so openly discussing HIV and normalising it. I remember a guy in my bed once, he said that he read my work and had a crush on me, and didn’t really understand what it was to be undetectable. That was then when I first felt a responsibility to explain. He wanted to use a condom, but was still nervous, so I sat down and explained. We spoke a lot that night, in between play, and at the end of it he knew more. My most memorable moments in the boudoir, were guys who came over and disclosed, that they too, were HIV positive. However, many we’re out on the hook-up apps, and it wasn’t until were between the sheets that they’d open up to me in - talking fears, outdated judgments, relationships with their family, how they became positive. To be honest, a lot of my weekend activities felt more like a counselling service, but with a wealth of rewards for both of us.
My voice travelled far and wide, with a write-up in the Huffington Post in America, declaring me ’The Face of Honesty’. The very next day I had messages from around the world with readers saying how I helped normalise living with HIV. I even received a gift from a doctor in Thailand who said that he wanted to send something to me, to thank me for giving him comfort and hope, as he was also HIV positive but had never told anyone. I remember openly saying in front of the NHS and board of directors once at a conference, that I was the only one in Manchester that used his sex life as a way to analysis people’s sexual habits, and then honestly write about what I did.
I believe that sex goes beyond sexual practice - we have a responsibility to look out for each other and that’s what I did, and will continue to do. I have always said sex isn’t a choir for me, it’s an art. And with that saying came the times I learned that my sex life came with a responsibility to others. A while ago the law stated that if you’re HIV positive you had to disclose your status if you wanted have unprotected sex. We felt obliged to - I didn’t want to risk my career for a fuck. You can only imagine how many people I had to tell. Every single person I told, and every time I told them I was undetectable. A word that was lost, hiding and not a familiar term with many. Now, we’re empowering one another to talk openly about viral loads and I’m so proud that undetectability is there showing people that it’s safe to have sex with me. Years ago, there was limited scientific support and so little written to back me up that I was no longer infectious to my partners. It’s important to remember that barebacking is a personal experience, and once both parties are aware of the situation, it’s no one else’s business what happens in the sheets. With the addition of PrEP, it makes those conversations feel even more the natural.
My articles were and remain based on my personal truths, worries, concerns, happiness, excitement, family, fear, suffering, love and passion. It’s also empowered me to have a better sex life, because I faced, and challenged, rejection and stigma. And every time I faced an issue, I wrote about it, making sure my readers knew that I wasn’t invincible and that even when I faced such hurt, I wrote about it. Not everyone will accept our positive status, but don't’ allow that to stop you from going out there and enjoying a fantastic sex life!
Between The Sheets is part of LGBT Foundation's #SexWithoutShame campaign, empowering LGBT people to talk openly about their sex lives and the experiences they've had along the way.