That's a pretty horrible picture, innit? It's a 40-year-old German monkeypox patient whose nose began to rot off after he caught the disease. Turns out that he was HIV-positive and didn't know, plus was infected with advanced syphilis -- also a surprise to him. He told doctors he had never been tested for a sexually transmitted infection. There he was, celebrating diversity like a champ, and now his nose is partially rotted off. Heaven knows who he passed along HIV, syphilis, and monkeypox to along the way.
Meanwhile, New Orleans is so far going ahead with its big Labor Day weekend Southern Decadence festival, an LGBT event that draws 275,000 to the French Quarter for six days of sex, dancing, and debauchery. Decadence was cancelled the past two years because of Covid, but not over monkeypox, though it is certain to be a superspreader event.
I will never be able to understand the death wish of a culture in which a man like the anonymous German exists. Take a look at this collection of articles from medical journals, compiled by Joseph Sciambra (once a promiscuous gay man, now a chaste Christian), testifying to the shocking health realities of gay male culture. For example, according to the CDC in 2017, 60 percent of syphilis cases were found in only two percent of the population: gay men.
I remember being told by the media that gay men were vastly more promiscuous than straight men because society compelled them to be. Normalize homosexuality and grant same-sex marriage, and that would change. I never believed it because I knew perfectly well that gay men were insanely promiscuous not because they were gay, but because they were men. An ordinary male unrestrained by religious or moral scruple, and faced with a wide variety of willing partners who demand no emotional commitment, or even to know one's name, before having sex -- that man will likely behave exactly as most gay men do. Until now, at least, heterosexual men have had to cope with a culture of restraint imposed by women. Randy Shilts, the gay journalist who wrote And The Band Played On (and who later died of AIDS), made this very same point in his book. He said that straight men he'd spoken to expressed envy that gay men could have such a bounty of sexual experiences, because they didn't live with the restraining factor of women. There was always, always somebody -- and usually many somebodys -- willing to say "yes" to anything you wanted, any time you wanted.
In the United States, we have had legal same-sex marriage from coast to coast for seven years now. Of course the culture of debauchery has not changed. It never was going to change. And look, if the horrors of AIDS didn't change it, why should monkeypox?
If all this is normative behavior in the gay male community (note well: I'm not talking about lesbians), then what chance does a young gay male have of not being caught up in it? We live in a culture where, for better or for worse, homosexuality has been largely destigmatized. It seems plausible that if a young gay man wanted to have a normal, "vanilla" lifestyle of dating, courting, and gay marriage, it would be possible. I wonder, though, how likely it is when the cultural norms within the gay male community are so debauched. Seriously, gay male readers, what advice would you give an adolescent gay male if he wanted to avoid falling into that gutter? If you don't have the ability to use the comments section, email me at rod -- at -- amconmag -- dot -- com, and put COMMENT in the subject line.
In the late 1980s, during the height of the AIDS crisis, a New Orleans friend who is very liberal and pro-gay, though a heterosexual woman, told me a story about being out on the streets on Mardi Gras day. She said that she and her boyfriend were crossing lower Bourbon Street, the heart of the city's gay community, when they saw a teenage boy, couldn't have been a day over 17, staggering drunk (or drugged) and naked through the crowd of men. He had blood and feces running down his leg from his rectum. He had likely been raped. Nobody in the crowd was trying to help him. He was lost and wandering. He disappeared into the crowd of nearly-naked gay men partying in the street. My friend said the sight of that poor kid, who may well have been infected with HIV that day, upset her so much that she asked her boyfriend to take her home, that her day was done.
We never talk about stuff like that. It violates the Narrative. But it happens. It's not the whole story about gay male culture here, but it's a part of the story.
UPDATE: Along these lines, here's a strong essay by Bridget Phetasy about her regret over being a "slut". Excerpt:
But if I’m honest with myself, of the dozens of men I’ve been with (at least the ones I remember), I can only think of a handful I don’t regret. The rest I would put in the category of “casual,” which I would define as sex that is either meaningless or mediocre (or both). If I get really honest with myself, I’d say most of these usually drunken encounters left me feeling empty and demoralized. And worthless.
I wouldn’t have said that at the time, though. At the time, I would have told you I was “liberated” even while I tried to drink away the sick feeling of rejection when my most recent hook-up didn’t call me back. At the time, I would have said one-night stands made me feel “emboldened.” But in reality, I was using sex like a drug; trying unsuccessfully to fill a hole inside me with men. (Pun intended.)
I know regretting most of my sexual encounters is not something a sex-positive feminist who used to write a column for Playboy is supposed to admit. And for years, I didn’t. Let me be clear, being a “slut” and sleeping with a lot of men is not the only behavior I regret. Even more damaging was what I told myself in order to justify the fact that I was disposable to these men: I told myself I didn’t care.
I didn’t care when a man ghosted me. I didn’t care when he left in the middle of the night or hinted that he wanted me to leave. The walks of shame. The blackouts. The anxiety.
The lie I told myself for decades was: I’m not in pain—I’m empowered.
Looking back, it isn’t a surprise that I lied to myself. Because from a young age, sex was something I was lied to about.
Yeah, me too. I was never any kind of "slut," if that word can be applied to men. But it took me a while to work out that what the world (meaning popular culture) told me about sex was a lie. I was not especially sexually active in my pre-Christian years, but that wasn't for lack of trying. What slowed me down was the misery I felt after doing the deed. Everything was clear after that: the lies I told the women, and myself, about what we were doing. I loved sex, but more than that, I really did want it to be about love, real love. I kept trying to tell myself that it was fine for it to be meaningless, because that's what I was supposed to think. It was a lie. It was only after my conversion, and learning the value of chastity, that I was able to see the true meaning of sex. It kept me away from surrendering my life to Christ for years, because I thought -- I had been told -- that it was my birthright to enjoy commitment-free sexual pleasure. Hadn't we put away the hypocrisy of our parents' generation? Weren't we, you know, liberated? I believed that with my mind, but my heart, and my body, said otherwise.
For me, the truth came with the suddenly real prospect that I might have made a woman I had been with after a drunken hook-up pregnant, and that if she was, and had an abortion (as she defiantly told me she would when I told her that I would stay with her and help her raise the baby), my opposition to the abortion would in no way eliminate the moral guilt I would bear because of my foolishness. Then I had to face the ugly reality of the life I had chosen. It was a moment of moral reckoning for me. I had to think back to the woman I had been involved with the year before, who had really thought I loved her because I said so with my body; when I broke up with her, she was devastated. Many years later, I found her online and asked for her forgiveness. I didn't know what I was doing. Mostly. But deep down, of course I knew, but I did it anyway, because I didn't want to be some kind of Christian freak.
That man above, with his hideous nose, bears an outer sign of an inward reality. I never had a disfigurement, an STD, or anything like that. But inwardly, I was diseased. And I regretted it. I got to the point, in 1992, of realizing that I wanted the truth, and Christ, more than I wanted my desires. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the liars in church who told me that my latent Christian scruples were old-fashioned and could be cast aside were deceivers. I had a difficult four years of struggling with chastity between my conversion and my marriage, but in that time in the desert, I matured spiritually, and was able to feel in my body the truth of what I had accepted with my mind at my conversion.
Promiscuous gay male culture is the epitome of the Sexual Revolution. But they are not the only guilty ones, not by a long shot.
UPDATE.2: From NBC News:
Since the outset of the global monkeypox outbreak in May, public health and infectious disease experts have told the public that the virus is largely transmitting through skin-to-skin contact, in particular during sex between men.
Now, however, an expanding cadre of experts has come to believe that sex between men itself — both anal as well as oral intercourse — is likely the main driver of global monkeypox transmission. The skin contact that comes with sex, these experts say, is probably much less of a risk factor.
In recent weeks, a growing body of scientific evidence — including a trio of studies published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as reports from national, regional and global health authorities — has suggested that experts may have framed monkeypox’s typical transmission route precisely backward.
Imagine that: monkeypox is a gay STD, but public health experts chose to lean heavily into the explanation that did not stigmatize gay male promiscuity, because reasons. Ah, the Holy Narrative! Never, ever, ever stigmatize sexual liberation, especially gay sexual liberation, because #LoveWins, or some bullshit. Meanwhile, people's noses are rotting off, and they are suffering in excruciating pain, especially on their penis and anus, all because they can't keep their pants up.
UPDATE.3: Comments from readers emailed to me below. Here's reader Brad:
I've been a long-time reader of your blog, first time commenting, but I feel I have something to say on your ask of what to tell young gay men facing "the community".
First, a brief background. Been with my husband for 20 yrs. "legal" for 7. Prior to getting legally married we owned houses together and when you own debt you are together for better or worse. I called it the "gay man's marriage license". I officially came out when I was in my early 20's and having to do it again all over as a small "c" conservative. This second coming out has been much worse and harder. My husband and I have lost friends and gained new ones in this journey.
I would tell young gay men to steer clear of the official "community" there's nothing for you there of any meaning. We have few gay friends, because for a lot of gays, that part of their identity is all consuming. We are both more than just that one facet. I would tell that person to live their life, meet friends from all over, but don't look to the gay community exclusively to welcome you with open arms. Most of those gays are "happy" on the surface but look deeper and you see people who are damaged either because of being exploited themselves by the community or rejected from their family of origin. The level of nihilism and just plain recklessness is insane.
Not sure if that's a real answer, but I've found life to be very happy and fulfilled and that's because I haven't spent all my time surrounded by professional gays but live life with people from all walks of life.
I'm a 41 year old guy living in Northern California, engaged and monogamous for the last 5 years. Before that I went through a protracted period in my late twenties and thirties of dating and online hookups, although it was probably a comparatively mild experience and more consonant with what I think an average straight guy experiences who dates serially. Experimentation but nothing super crazy. Mostly what I found fun was meeting guys and discovering what my type was, what I really wanted out of life. The sexual stuff was fun, of course, but I never completely fell into the “notches on the bedpost” philosophy that many gay men find so difficult to resist. And I was always very cautious about STDs. I’d be lying if I said I never felt the pull of that mindset, though. I’m a late bloomer, a real introvert, so maybe those tempered me. Or maybe I was just lucky. In the end though I think it’s really about learning balance in life and the value of cultivating deeper forms of happiness: artistic, spiritual, intellectual, moral, romantic.
Realistically, I think what we should hope for is that young gay men will follow a similar path to straight men who themselves usually date, have a period of exploration, and then eventually settle down. And in my opinion, it’s no secret how you do this. We’ve known for thousands of years going back to the classical systems. Even if you adopt a philosophical hedonism as your ethical system (a la say Epicurus), the value of moderation is of central importance to the very essence of pleasure.
I believe studies have shown for example that high achieving, highly intelligent straight men not only attract more beautiful women but also hew more closely to a monogamous lifestyle than their less competitive peers. This is no doubt because they can also sublimate themselves in their work, career, interests, etc. The problem in our society is that sublimation has a bad name. So instead call it balance or moderation. You can enjoy a few things in excess or many in moderation. And it’s always seemed to me that the happiest people are of the latter type. You know, variety-is-the-spice-of-life kind of thing. As we see, though, people can easily get carried away in one direction with that!
I’m not a religious person though, and have a more pragmatist ethics than most Christians. I read your blog because you seem like a real person with real concerns willing to say what he thinks. I respect that. For me monogamy is more of an ideal that people often don’t live up to rather than a strict existential requirement. But it’s still an ideal, still real in that sense of being a real ideal. That power of ideas and philosophical reflection has always been a part of my life, so maybe I’m not the most representative gay person out there.
Open relationships are indeed somewhat common in the gay male world, or least a common phase for many. And I’ve seen some signs in the zeitgeist that it might be rubbing off on straights. Who knows what the future holds, but I think humans will always have to balance their pleasures against one another. There’s no escaping the basic question of what exactly we should be doing with our time here on Earth. Because I’m not religious, I look for life’s meaning mostly in books. I’ve never given up on the idea that there’s some deeper way of living, whether spiritual, aesthetic, philosophical.
And so about the only advice one can give is to raise children with a deeper sense of what pleasures in life await them outside the sexual: intellectual understanding, the joy of helping others, genuine spiritual searching, aesthetic or artistic satisfaction. Young people, like everyone else really, are less likely to turn to extreme forms of pleasure seeking (drugs, sex addiction) if they grow up learning how to cultivate lasting happiness through larger social, intellectual, and moral connections.
These are good. Keep 'em coming.
UPDATE.4: Reader T writes:
This might sound like a dumb thing to say, but as a guy tempted toward all the ways guys can deprave one another, your monkey pox columns help disuade me from it. If it ever feels like you’re shouting into the void, you aren’t, you’re helping those of us on the edge get pulled back into center.
Not a dumb thing to say at all. Thank you!
The questions you pose are good ones. My best thought for young gay men who aren’t interested in promiscuity: be the change you wish to see in the world, and be unapologetically so. Leaving the party and sex culture will be hard and lonely (I’m on my own journey there, spurred by finding monogamous love). But attitudes are shifting generationally, it’s just going to take more time, bravery, and authenticity.
I think too we can start as gay men by asking ourselves what motivates this promiscuity if we can’t set it aside for our health and safety? I am opposed to the guilt and shame Puritanism heaps on us for appreciating bodily pleasures, but everything in moderation. Does the spread of monkeypox show we are not able to moderate this aspect of our lives? If so, could promiscuity be not only a personal but cultural addiction? And regardless of the original cause of our sexualized culture, do we not have a collective responsibility to face an addiction and imagine and work toward a healthier future.
I don’t have the answers. But as a community, I believe we need to be asking more questions about this topic, discussing them openly and honestly, and thinking deeply about our answers.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
A reader who hasn't written me for seven years dropped me this line:
It has been a while, but I have been reading your blog regularly.
On the issue of young gay men and the “lifestyle”. My middle son came out to me and my wife about the time of our previous exchange. He was still in (Catholic) High School. It came up a few times after that, but it was never in our face. He had a good group of friends and we used to wonder if any was his boyfriend. (None were). He went away to college about 6 hours away and came home for holidays and summer vacation. Aside from attending Pride Parades with his straight friends there was no indication that he was headed that way. During his last semester he started seeing ‘Rich’. Not much was said, about him, but we figured that it was going to happen.
At some point, my daughter let it slip that ‘Rich’ was 53 years old. Now this was concerning. Then our son asked if they could both come on our annual family vacation. The kids have brought friends, romantic or otherwise before. We were apprehensive, but said “sure”.
“Rich” it turns out is a very nice, quiet, thoughtful person. You wouldn’t meet either one of them and assume they were gay. I know how that makes me sound.
They seem to have a very quiet life and a good amount of friends, gay and straight. I guess my hope for my son was to avoid the lifestyle and have a good quiet life, and it seems that is what he has.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things that bother us about the relationship, but I can’t say a hetero relationship would have been different in some regards.
We love our son and tell him often. We never pushed him away because of this. So, I don’t know how he avoided the kind of debauchery you read about, maybe he didn’t fully. We are a short train ride to NYC, so it was available to him.
I like to tell myself that our acceptance of him as he is was a factor. We did not, and still do not celebrate it. There are no pride flags at our house. I guess we treat it like my other son’s excessive tattoos. That’s who he is.