We can learn a lot from what the lifestyle was like in the ’80s when looking at this pandemic and how we will get through it as a community.
By Bob Hannaford for ASN Lifestyle Magazine
Many of you were not in the “lifestyle” back in the ’80s, but we can learn a lot from those days when looking at this pandemic and how we will get through it as a community.
Back in the early ’80s, swing clubs were completely underground but widespread and very popular. Playing at clubs was routine and took up more time than dancing or socializing. Clubs were more “hardcore” back then and more about sex.
Condom use, back in those days was rare. It was used more to prevent pregnancies than STDs. Life was fast and people partied hard, those were fun times.
Then AIDS happened.
Cities went after gay bathhouses and “swinger” clubs and many were shut down, raided, or fined until they had no choice but to close. Instead of looking at the cause of the spread of HIV, they had a knee jerk reaction to simply do away with these businesses and the spread would stop. That didn’t work, because people just had unprotected sex in other places, and the virus spread.
Eventually, public education about safe sex and the spread of this virus was able to help curb the spread and a new era of protected sex was ushered in. Eventually, clubs re-opened and condom use became the norm.
Today we face a new threat. A new virus. A need for new protection.
Why The Lifestyle is At Higher Risk of Spread and of Discrimination
I fear that contact tracing will result in several clubs and resorts becoming known as super spreaders and hot spots within our community unless we all take the time to really discuss what precautions need to be taken in order to make sure our community is not rattled like it was back in the ’80s.
We can learn from our own history and hopefully prevent widespread transmission and even deaths. We know that many lifestyle events and clubs have older attendees and customers, many with underlying conditions that make them especially vulnerable. We also know that younger people can spread this virus, often undetected, to many people in a very short time.
Our “lifestyle” is particularly at risk because social distancing is not something that is very plausible at a lifestyle club or event. While events and clubs in today’s swinging world are more geared towards socializing, dancing, and flirting than it is about outright sex, there is still a lot of close physical contact and plenty of sex still going on.
The virus usually enters the body through the eyes, mouth, and nose and is susceptible to droplets and body fluids, making kissing, oral sex, and face-to-face breathing, some of the highest risks known to us.
So, How Do We Move Forward, While Minimizing Our Risks?
First of all, we need clubs and events to take as many precautions as possible and make sure that they meet or exceed the local, state, and CDC guidelines. We, as lifestyle-related businesses have been sharing information on sanitizing agents, methods of spraying, where to buy touchless thermometers, etc. We are all in this together and we need to collaborate, as a community, so we can be better and safer.
If all you do is stop going to the club that you heard had an outbreak, but you go to the next club down the street, you have not done anything to mitigate your risk. You will be just as likely to catch this virus there as you would at the previous place. Changing venues will not help unless you are going somewhere with more strict precautions. Even still, you are not safe from the virus.
Let’s Not Play the Blame Game
One issue that comes along with every new virus or pandemic is who to blame. Should we blame China for the virus? Should we blame our country for not acting fast enough? Should we blame a club or a resort when there is an outbreak? In the end, you can blame whoever you want, but what good will it do?
If clubs or businesses are being shamed, other clubs will be slow to self-report outbreaks for fear of a backlash from Facebook and social media circles. We need to encourage transparency, not secrecy.
If people are willing to take risks and businesses are open, then the possibility of catching this virus, or another virus, or an STD will always be there. What we need to do is be educated, know our risks, strive to mitigate the risks, and hope for the best. If you are immunocompromised, you have underlined conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung or breathing issues, you may not want to go to any clubs or events until a vaccine is out.
But what if a vaccine never makes it to market? What then?
There still is not a vaccine for AIDS and it’s been 30 years.
If a business is trying hard to make sure they are taking as many precautions as they can, it is up to you to assess the risk and decide on whether or not you are going to put yourself in a position to potentially get this virus.
You could get the virus at a gas station, at a restaurant, from your neighbor, or while at a lifestyle club. If you get it, it’s not fair to blame the gas station or your neighbor. In many cases, you will not know where you got it and you will not know who you got it from.
One of the main issues with this virus is that you could be contagious without knowing it. You could even be a “super spreader” infecting people all around you without knowing it. So why blame someone for unknowingly “shedding” the virus, instead, focus on prevention, and if you do get this virus, focus on getting better and preventing others from getting it.
Testing is Key
We think one of the best ways to ensure you are safe is by getting tested. If everyone got tested prior to going to an event or club, then you would feel a lot better, but we know that only a handful will. Most cities have free testing, so before you go to a party, it would be considerate to get tested for your safety, as well as others.
Of course, if you are going to a club on a regular basis, weekly testing is probably not practical, but there are plenty of other things you can do. Most importantly, if you have ANY symptoms, simply do not go out. If it’s just a slight fever or a lack of smell or taste, you need to self-isolate until you know for sure whether you have the virus or not.
Yes, it’s true that masks won’t keep you from getting this virus, but they can help keep down the spread by trapping in droplets from someone that is coughing or sneezing so it does not spread through the air.
The more people that wear masks and social distance, the faster this thing will go away. While it is impossible to social distance at a lifestyle club or event, you can certainly keep your distance from strangers in your day to day life and you can wear a mask at all times (in public) and that will do a lot towards avoiding or spreading this virus.
Wearing a mask has become a political issue for some reason when it is simply a medical science issue. While there was poor (and bad) information about masks when this pandemic first hit, we now know that wearing a mask will greatly reduce the spread of this virus, for those out in public. Let’s make this an issue of compassion, not politics.
If you don’t think you will get this or you don’t think it will be serious, don’t do it for yourself, do it for those around you. There is no bigger compassion than to protect others by being safe and masking up.
It’s true, that if you are younger and fairly healthy, you may not have any issues with COVID-19, but there are plenty of younger people that are getting this now and many of them are spreading it to their friends and family without even knowing it. Don’t be that person.
Social Distancing is OK
We know that hugging, kissing, and touching people is part of our world, but for now, we can take a time out and be less touchy-feely at clubs or parties. You can still show affection with a smile, (you do know that your eyes smile too, even when wearing a mask) and a fist bump or elbow bump. Don’t just go up to an old friend and give them a big ol’ hug, until you can talk to them first and assess where they are and what type of contact is acceptable for them.
Tess has been wearing a mask everywhere (I mean everywhere), because of her compromised immune system. We do go out and see friends, she just asks them to respect her boundaries and refrain from kisses and hugs right now. If she found someone she was comfortable with, after talking a bit, she may decide to go further, but as an initial greeting, we all need to respect people’s boundaries and be aware of their distance and contact.
The problem with going out to a club is: Alcohol. Once the liquor starts flowing, the protections start to go out the window. But I am confident that we can do this, we can succeed, because our collective health counts on it.
Contact Tracing: Let People Know
If you do come down with COVID-19, don’t hide it, let people know (especially with those you have been in contact with). If you have been to a lifestyle event or club, reach out to the owner or manager and let them know when you arrived, where you hung out, and other details about your stay including if you played with someone, who they are, and when you headed home.
Based on this information, the club owner/manager will know who to alert to let them know that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. If this doesn’t happen, people will go to more clubs and spread this further and further until we have a real crisis within our community.
Let’s be smart about this and realize that there is a risk and that we can communicate with each other to ensure that people that have been exposed can be contacted quickly, to help ensure that they get tested and keep away from friends and family until their results come in. Transparency is the key, and this will ensure clubs are being rewarded for being responsible instead of ostracized because there was an outbreak.
We’d personally rather attend a club where they are honest enough to report random outbreaks because they will happen everywhere. At least we know we will be contacted, which does not mean we have it, only that we should get tested.
Once you find out that you were in contact with someone else that has the virus, get tested and then self-quarantine until you get a negative test and you are no longer contagious. While I believe it is unfair to blame a business for you getting infected, I also think it is your responsibility to stay away from everyone, once you know that you have it. In fact, you should also quarantine while waiting for your results.
We went from a lifestyle that looked down on condoms to one that expects them. We need to be responsible and not look down on people that wear masks and socially distance. We need to bring back the fist bump, or better yet the elbow bump so that we can be healthy enough to resume non-monogamous activity when you feel it is safe enough for your own personal choice.
In the End, It’s All Down to Personal Choice and Responsibility
No matter how well you try to protect yourself unless you are quarantined at home, there will be risks. We need to assess our risks, hold others accountable, and remain positive and collaborative.
We will see a sharp downtick in attendance, and we are fine with this, as different people have different risk factors. We simply want to get the discussion going about being safer, wearing masks, and watching out for each other. This is more than a social activity; we consider our lifestyle friends and family and want to protect them just as much as we do our own families.
Be safe. Take care. Spread the word (not the virus).
This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of ASN Lifestyle Magazine.