A young gay man shares his anxieties and epiphanies about safe sex in this memoir.
The author’s not really sure when he first heard about AIDS. As a child in the 1980s and early ’90s, Peterson (Skin Job, 2012, etc.) knew the anxiety that swirled around the disease, an unease that followed him as he came out. But by the time he reached college, the landscape had dramatically shifted with HIV treatments. In this chatty, diarylike narrative, Peterson shares his journey from his initial, fraught sexual encounters to the assured, fun adventures he has thanks, in large part, to PrEP, an HIV prevention pill. In his early escapades, Peterson found himself wondering how gay sex fit into the idea of first base, second base, and so on. He dated throughout college, having a range of good experiences, bad ones, and an especially traumatizing encounter during which he was sexually assaulted. After college, Peterson “pinballed around from one lousy hookup to another” until a friend and mentor suggested he try dating HIV-positive men instead of “ignoring that huge chunk of the queer population.” Peterson eventually warmed to the idea and soon after decided to go on PrEP. As his explorations continued, he found a wealth of sexual partners and a minefield of opinions to battle. Most important, he developed confidence in the bedroom and outside of it. Diary is the right category for this charming and candid book, as it’s filled with detailed one-night stands, Grindr messages, heart-to-hearts with friends, and some truly intimate moments. In writing about sex, Peterson leaves no stone unturned and matches his memories with his wit. “I should’ve lost my virginity to Cher, not Avril Lavigne,” he quips. The author is careful to weave his storytelling into his research, which only gets clunky occasionally, as when whole chunks of interviews with others interrupt the narrative. There are some spots where the account drags, in the parade of sexual exploits, but it remains readable and enjoyable nonetheless.
Readers curious about how HIV prevention drugs can influence a sexual revolution should find lots of vivid details in this ambitious and honest story.