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Like A Virgin – A Message for World Aids Day

“I was a freshly imported 18-year-old Swedish boy, working as an au pair. He was a 32-year-old count, related, or so he said, to the royal family”.

Josef Church-Woods


Everyone remembers their first time. Mine was in a Jacuzzi in a villa outside London, belonging to a closeted millionaire who plied me with drinks in a gay nightclub before taking me home.

I was a freshly imported 18-year-old Swedish boy, working as an au pair. He was a 32-year-old count, related, or so he said, to the royal family.

That might sound a bit like Pretty Woman meets The King & I, but I can assure you that’s not how it felt. I was torn between a desperate urge to explore a sexuality I was still coming to terms with, and a sense of disgust and confusion at my smutty compulsions. On top of that, the count was no Richard Gere and I was not quite drunk enough to feel comfortable in a car taking me to a random stranger’s home, miles outside of London.

devil-joe1As it turned out, he was a perfect gentleman and even drove me back to the house in south London where I was staying, early the next day. I did actually feel a bit like Julia Robert’s character in Pretty Woman as I got out of his Porsche at seven in the morning; I could easily have been mistaken for a cheap hooker being dropped off by a filthy-rich john…although I never did get to wear the tatty wig or thigh-high, PVC stiletto boots. I was riddled with shame for weeks after and it was several months before I went near a man again.

Of course, not all guys are quite as traumatised by their first sexual encounter with another man, nor are most silly enough to let a stranger whisk them off to the countryside for a mid-night roll in the hay. But all the same, there is a lot to take in when you’re new on the scene. If you’re a little bit naïve, a little bit desperate, a little bit uncomfortable in your own skin – or any combination of the above – it’s very easy to get carried away and do things you’ll come to regret.

According to the Health Protection Agency, an estimated 96,000 people were living with HIV in the UK by the end of 2011. Out of those individuals, around one quarter were undiagnosed and unaware of their infection. Then there are all the other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) to be considered – many of which do not necessarily have any noticeable symptoms – such as Chlamydia, syphilis, LGV and gonorrhoea. So if you thought HIV was a thing of the past or that you’d notice if you had an STI, think again.

Not that I should have to tell you that; everywhere you go on the gay scene these days there are posters promoting safer sex, most often accompanied by boxes bursting with free condoms and water-based lube. Yet STI’s remain rife among gay and bisexual men of all ages and backgrounds, in the UK and around the world.

I don’t think this is because you boys are stupid or even necessarily careless. I know from personal experience that when you are being touched for the very first time (or one of the very first times…or the very first time by your new and super-awesome boyfriend), it can be hard to stick to your guns.

If you’re in the midst of falling madly in love with a hot man and he assures you, as he rips your shirt off, that he’s fine and there’s no need for a condom, you might just take his word for it. You may have been going out for a few weeks or a few months and decided that you’ve had enough of rubbers and besides, there’s no way those gorgeous eyes of his could lie.

Well, here’s a thought: maybe they’re not lying. Maybe he is one of those gay men who for whatever reason don’t know they have an STI. He could have been tested too soon after having unprotected sex…maybe he didn’t realise a condom broke…or maybe, like you, he fell in love, got very horny and decided that the man on top of him was too young, too handsome or too damn nice to have an STI.

STI’s, of course, couldn’t care less about age, looks or personality, and neither should we; when it comes to sex it really is better to be safe than sorry.

Right then, before you all run screaming to the nearest monastery for a lifetime of celibacy and prayer, I should point out that sex is not something to fear and HIV is not a monster in your recently vacated closet. All I’m saying is that you should try to show yourself, and others, enough respect to be as sensible as possible when having fun in the bedroom.

And the same goes for the kitchen table, the stairs, the toilet cubicles in your favourite watering hole and the shrubs in your local cruising area.

But if, like most of us, you’re human and get carried away – don’t spend the rest of your life beating yourself up; get checked out (and I don’t mean by a hot man, unless he also happened to be your GUM doctor) and try to learn from your mistakes.

Maybe then you can ensure that, even if the first time didn’t live up to your expectations, the second time is actually an experience you are happy to remember.


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