we have decided that thou-sands of people must die in Canada each year, although we know what to do to stop those deaths. They must die because it is terribly inconvenient for the rest of us if they do not.I'm talking here of traffic fatalities. I recall reading that traffic accidents and deaths could be reduced virtually to zero if the maximum speed were 15 kilometres per hour, but you'd be seen as a utopian eccentric if you seriously tried to suggest that.
We have decided that we will do our best to encourage safe driving, but we will nonetheless live with the knowledge that our desire for speed and efficiency means that we are also condemning several thousand people to death each year.
Which brings us to World AIDS Day, December 1. The fear of dying in a car accident is a familiar one. The fear of dying of AIDS, I think, has now entered the passing lane on the highway of socially manageable fears and is rapidly catching up. Recent reports indicate that the rate of seroconversion, which has been falling for years, is increasing again.
Part of me wonders whether this isn't a good sign. A fear we can live with is a fear we can work with. The devastating fear that was AIDS in the early years of the epidemic drove some individuals and organizations to the extreme of demanding standards of sexual behaviour that never really acknowledged the powerful role sex plays in many people's lives. For most people, sucking with a condom is unerotic, although some organizations tried to argue that that just didn't matter -- safety should override every other consideration.
Demanding that people always fuck with a condom doesn't acknowledge that some of the time people will value an intimacy unimpeded by latex more than they will value their own, and their partner's, safety. Nor does it acknowledge the thrill of danger -- the same thrill that makes us speed on the highway, that makes us take up, in increasing numbers, the "extreme sports" that put our lives at calculated risk.
We tend not to moralize about people who sky dive or swim with sharks or climb sheer rock walls. I understand that many extreme sports put only an individual at risk while unsafe sex potentially endangers many. I understand, most of all, that moralizing won't stop people from taking those risks.
Will we moralize less about unsafe sex if we view "barebacking" -- anal sex without a condom -- as just another extreme sport?
And if we do, will we be able to talk about it more reasonably, without the outrage that has so often characterized such discussions? We acknowledge that people drive too fast -- and we tell them to buckle up. We acknowledge that people enjoy extreme sports and we encourage them to take precautions, always realizing that nothing they will do will make it totally safe. Total safety is the exact opposite of what they want. Can we do the same with sex? Can we learn to work with the fear many of us so clearly love to live with?
I'm not certain what that might mean, but I'm guessing it means recognizing that barebacking, our newest extreme sport, is here to stay, and that making condoms our only caution just won't work. What our other cautions might be, I don't know. But World AIDS Day might be just the day to start reflecting on exactly that.