By Justin Mahboubian-Jones

Just when we thought we could breathe out, along came another virus.

For three months monkeypox has been wending its way across the globe, taking with it a distinct sense of deja vu.

We’ve been on this merry-go-round before; anxious hook-ups, rising stigma, an unmet but crushing need for treatment, and our bodies and sex lives at the centre of it all. If you’re feeling exhausted, then you’re in good company.

Many of us feel like we have only just emerged from the looming shadow of stigma and shame that blossomed during the peak of the HIV epidemic, where sex and danger were fused together in the minds of millions. PrEP, U=U, and education about the virus have at last begun to chip away at our fears, which is why it’s so important that the current monkeypox outbreak doesn’t rekindle old ideas in our community that sex is to be feared.

Unfortunately the current situation is the perfect breeding ground (pun intended) for anxiety about sex to flourish.

The virus is mostly moving between gay and bisexual men, 95% of the time it’s passed on during sex, and due to a shortage of vaccines, hundreds of thousands of us are left in a situation where casual encounters expose us to unacceptable risk. The result: lots of us are worried about sex and when it will be ‘safe’ to have it again.

Solid sex-positive messaging could help to quell some of these worries. LGBT HERO, and GMFA as it existed before, has always put joy and pleasure in sex at the forefront of its mission. But without a definitive answer on when people will receive vaccines, and abstinence seeming the only other effective method of prevention, maintaining a sex positive message has been damned hard. Dance around the issue as we may, these are the choices currently on the table for our community.

A huge number of gay and bi men are already acting without directive. According to our monkeypox survey, 40% of respondents have stopped having sex altogether.

How long this continues should be of great concern to us all. Sex may have been banned by proxy during Covid lockdowns, but that was a universal rule applied to *everyone*. Once again gay and bi men find themselves, through no fault of their own, in a situation where their lives are abnormally restricted.

We need action on this situation now, not at the end of September, or even later for those who aren’t eligible for the 100,000 further vaccine doses headed to the UK. It’s so important that we hold fast the sex-positive attitudes that have taken years to foster. If we don’t, we may be undoing years of growth within the community.

I know from personal experience how precarious the situation is. It’s taken me years to take back the reigns of my sex life and liberate myself from old habits, but for the first time in my thirties I feel anxious and unsure.

Is it OK to have sex? Am I being responsible? I feel tired by it all, even though I’ve had the privilege of a vaccination. These are questions millions of us are currently asking, and until the wider situation changes, it’s unlikely these concerns will hush themselves and let us enjoy some peace.

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