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The Basic Constituents of Semen
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Introduction & Update 2003/05

In the late 1980s, Larry Kramer was on the Phil Donahue Show and he noted that "safer sex" would not last for gay males. I instinctively knew why he said this, given my knowledge of the history of male homosexuality in the western world. In 1997, I made available the commentary reproduced below in the notes linked to the web page: The Homosexual/Bisexual "Closet" is Very Large: Part 1. This section was also linked to on a web page developed to begin addressing the relationship of some males contracting HIV to suicide problems: Contracting HIV. . . A Suicide Problem?

Since then, I did not have the time to formally investigate the meanings of semen / sperm until Eric Rofes requested a presentation on gay and bisexual male youth suicide issues at the Gay Men's Health Summit (Boulder, Colorado: July, 2000). My impression was that, although the importance of semen transfers for some gay males had been noted (especially in 1995, but there are earlier references), little had been done with respect to investigating the phenomenon, as later confirmed from a review of the literature. I could have, however, missed a related piece of work. With little time available (about 3 months), I nonetheless offered to explore the concept and report the findings in the form of a presentation at the Gay Men's Health Summit.

The presentation may be referenced as follows: Tremblay, Pierre (2000). The Seminal Truth? Highlights of a Literature Review. Presentation at the Gay Men's Health Summit, Boulder, Colorado, July.
The objective was to make information available on the meanings of semen / sperm from a cross-cultural and historical perspective, with a focus on the western world, and with a special focus on North American and European homosexually oriented males who were noted to attribute special meanings to semen / sperm. Basically, however, semen is 'only' the substance commented on by Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Dr. Ruth Guide to Good Sex (Warner Books Inc., 1983, 1984). She noted that "there is nothing wrong with spermatozoa," and that a man's sperm was even "slightly nutritious" (pp. 182, 361). Somehow, however, heterosexual males have not perceived semen in this way, at least not with respect to themselves ingesting the substance.

Westheimer's comment was nonetheless in line with the education received from my mother, a super nurse then specializing in palliative care which had not yet become a recognized and needed field of study. She noted that our genitals were, in normal healthy situations, infinitely cleaner than our hands and especially our mouths, adding that both urine and sperm were sterile: no germs! In other words, performing oral sex on a male or female (as long as viruses or certain bacteria are not present) is infinitely more healthy than mouth-to-mouth kissing. Therefore, all negative responses to performing oral sex on another person should not be as so many people have been socially programmed to feel about such activities.

The "negative" responses, if any, to something like performing oral sex on a male should be based on placing something so clean (a penis) in something so 'dirty' (relatively): a person's mouth. This reality illustrates the historical fact that societies often program its members (children) to have / develop responses to things (and toward people who are different from ourselves, including homosexually oriented individuals) which are all too often the opposite of what they should be. For me, all possible socially programmed negative responses to performing oral sex on a male was completely subverted by the fact that I grew up in a neighborhood where such sexual activities - of the mutual kind - were the rule for males, beginning before puberty (The Homosexual/Bisexual "Closet" is Very Large: Part 1).

Welcome to this first online exploration of the meanings of semen that began with what was made available on the subject in 1997, as reproduced below. You may return at any time to the Table of Content and follow a link to a web page containing information you may be seeking, but not all information I have collected are on these pages. Each web page is also constructed so that you may go - via links - from the viewed page to the previous web page, to the nest one, to the Table of Content, or to the Message Board. Your thoughts, ideas, or responses may be written on the Message Board, or in an email to me if you do not wish to be "public" in this respect.

Thank you for your visit and the contributions you may make to the "semen / sperm" subject. As soon as I have the time, I will be adding more commentaries to the information available on these web pages.

Pierre

The Homosexual/Bisexual "Closet" is Very Large: Part 1 (1997).

"By 1991, I had explained to Stephen Lock, a Calgary gay community leader who was also working at AIDS Calgary, the basics of what was labeled "The Psychology of Sperm."  Throughout the world, there are basically two ways that men somehow grow up to eventually perceive sperm.  It is perceived to be a powerful feminizing agent, meaning that all men ejaculated into will be MADE into a female, and this has been the ruling ideology in North American prisons.  In some Melanesian tribes, however, sperm is somehow perceived to have the opposite effect (or power). It's believed that boys will only grow up to become the ultimate male ideal if sperm is injected into them.  It is not yet known how males acquire this "psycho-magic" perception of sperm, but one fact is certain for all who have studied the "trade" system (see also Tremblay, 1992) existing not long ago in North America. Although dominant males have perceived their sperm to be a feminizing agent (and the idea of consuming is still perceived to be very disgusting (and insulting) as illustrated when a heterosexual male says to another heterosexual male: "You know where your fuckin' dinner's hanging!" Note 11.1), this negative perception did not apply for North American (and European) homosexual-identified males referred to as "fairies" during the first 70 years of this century. For them, sperm had a great psycho-magical value which was reported by psychiatrists working with homosexual males, and a similar concept was articulated by the gay author of  The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp, now in his eighties. In one of his writings, he had noted that many gay males were wearing out perfectly wonderful shoes as the result of their 'sperm junkie' status. Could sperm therefore be something like a desperately needed "drug" for at least some homosexual males? Does related historical data exist on the subject?

Much information was given about the "trade" and "rough trade" system on this web page (and by Tremblay, 1992), and the "homosexual males" situation was as follows during the twentieth century (and also during the nineteenth century). Male homosexual activity was illegal throughout North America (and most of Europe) up to about 1960, meaning that all who were homosexually involved could be sent to prison for engaging in such activities. Yet, when one looks at the Bell & Weinberg (1978) study results (from a 1969 sample of homosexual males having an average age of about 36 years), the extent of homosexual activity engaged in my most of these males was phenomenal, almost a if there were no laws proscribing homo-sexual activity. Why then did homosexual males take such risks?  What was so important to them that potential penalties, including a prison sentence, became secondary to having the sex they sought and experienced.  WHAT WAS THE SEX THEY NEEDED?  Did they pay for it, and what were they paying for?

The "trade" and "rough trade" system operated on the principle that homosexual males wanted to perform oral sex only (as a rule) on heterosexual-identified males, and that many were also willing to pay for what would essentially be a sperm donation.

As I have sometimes mentioned when the "gay pride" issue arises, the definition of "being gay" or "being homosexual" (also a 'fag" or "fairy") not all that long ago was: a male desiring sex with another male, but that the "other male" was to be heterosexual (at least credibly pretending to be heterosexual), as opposed to being like oneself: homosexual-identified. When heterosexual-identified psychiatrists heard about this, however, the conclusion was easily on the side of "insanity!"  Gay males were essentially doing what heterosexual males would have had to pay a female to do, but homosexual male were PAYING HETEROSEXUAL MALES FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF NOT ONLY PERFORMING ORAL SEX ON THEM, AND ESPECIALLY FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF INGESTING THEIR SPERM. Any woman who would have behaved in the same way, including a female prostitute, would have surely been deemed "insane," meaning that these homosexual males apparently had less intelligence than a hypothetical female who would probably never have considered paying heterosexual males for the privilege of performing oral sex on them to orgasm. (Males into 'trade," such as Tennessee Williams, also sought men who would anally penetrate them; the need was to have a heterosexual male ejaculate into one's anus.) What therefore does this mean?

It took a few years to encounter a piece of AIDS-related writing coming close to what may well be the "safe-sex" problem for a significant number of gay-identified males. Eric Rofes, the author of the first book to deal with gay male suicide problems, I thought People Like That killed Themselves (1983), did this in his 1996 book Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men's Sexuality and Culture in the Ongoing Epidemic. In a review of the book (http://www.thebody.com/content/art2476.html), Michael Shernoff related the factor noted above in the form of a question. "How important is it for some men to have a man inside of them without a condom, receiving (or giving) of sperm as an intimate and possible sacred act?" He continues: Thus Rofes suggests that "a prevention strategy which recognizes many men's powerful desire for penetrating and receiving semen might consider a long range, multigenerational approach to reducing transmission..."

In the above rendition of "giving and receiving semen," the activity is elevated to a "possible sacred act," but this is "sugar-coating" jargon to most homosexual males thinking about the activity under sexual stimulation, or when watching highly stimulating pornography presenting men with what they want: raw sex, without "spirituality."  In fact, the sperm donors in pornography often imitate the "trade" sperm donors from the past by making statements not only emphasizing the degraded status of the ones being ejaculated into (the heterosexual's "You know where your dinner is hanging!" mentality). It is also commonly noted that the homosexual male really wants this, that he loves having another male ejaculate in him, and - more importantly - that HE Desperately NEEDS "this fuckin' hot load of cum!" Why this reality applies to many gay males is yet to be written about, with implications.

Suffice to say, with respect to the North American AIDS epidemic ongoing slaughter of gay males, that little changed from about 1985 (when "safer-sex" education was almost unknown) to 1995 when it was increasingly realized that the so-called "safer-sex education" had done little to change the "AIDS epidemic" situation in gay communities.  Throughout the ten-year period, about one-third of gay males continued high-risk sexual practices (receiving sperm anally, and most probably continued to do it orally because of the lower risk). Another third were at moderate risk, while the last third was at low risk - thus creating the situation agreed by all in the infamous "Sex Panic" debate: - SAFER-SEX EDUCATION HAS ESSENTIALLY NOT WORKED FOR GAY MALES! The battle also began between Gabriel Rotello (author of the book, Sexual Ecology) and Rofes, for example, and their ideological camps over what could be done, and it's Rofes who may well be the wiser because gay males in need of their magical sperm fixes (which also explains their so well noted need for many sex partners) will continue to receive sperm transfers with a high likelihood of containing the HIV virus.

Anti-homosexuality laws, nor the threat of a prison sentence, could deter homosexual-identified males in the past from seeking and obtaining the substance many were also willing to pay for.  Furthermore, homosexual males into "rough trade" also knew they were risking being physically assaulted by the donor heterosexual-identified males, and even killed (as it happened to some of them), but these risks did not deter them from seeking their needed sperm donations. Therefore, for the ones aware of the homosexual-identified male's history in North America, the educated guess would be : "The threat of dying at some future time (possibly in six to fifteen years, as is most often the case after contracting HIV) will certainly not be (become) a deterrent for gay males needing sperm donation, nor for the (possibly HIV-positive) males who are, for some reason, driven to be sperm donors. Furthermore, some gay males sincerely wishing to practice safe-sex will not helped when they are having sex with a males in desperate need of a sperm donation, as noted above.

When I explained "The Psychology of Sperm" to Stephen Lock in 1991, he was doing "safer sex" work with a group of high-risk gay males, and decided to raise the issue with them given his recognition of the phenomenon. He reported that he had hit the nail on the head; their response being an abnormal silence saying: "We don't want to deal with this!"  Soon after, Lock was dismissed from AIDS Calgary which I have occasionally referred to in warranted unkind words, but what have such organizations really contributed to the understanding of gay male sexualities desperately needed to develop effective "safer sex" education methods?  Nothing much!  In fact, I have had reason to suspect that most gay males involved with AIDS Calgary have had unsavory agenda as it became apparent in 1995 when a gay male friend (to whom I had explained "The Psychology of Sperm, and for whom the problem applied) reported on what happened when he had sex with long term AIDS Calgary male employee involved with "safer sex" education. "When I was about to come, I wanted to withdraw and told him my intentions, but he bore down on me even harder and it happened so quickly that I could not withdraw."

AIDS Calgary was informed about "The Psychology of Sperm" beginning in 1991, but no one there wanted to address this issue.  Understanding the phenomenon, however, involves knowing homosexual male history from a cross-cultural perspective, and especially being familiar with highly taboo knowledge concerning the joys boys manifested when ejaculated into because they live in a society which values sperm as a highly positive substance Note 11.2. The implications of this are monumental (for the concept of "child sexual abuse," and especially with respect to developing a yet non-existent decent "human sexuality" theory), and I may write about it someday. I will then explain how feminists, and especially anti-butch / femme lesbian feminists and their often associated "denial-of-REALITY" perspectives about some male sexualities, combined with often obsessive totalitarian attitudes and some great delusions about child sexual abuse, have been a significant contributor to the ongoing abysmal ignorance of human sexuality in general, and male homosexuality in particular. This maintained ignorance has likely been at the root cause of the ongoing unsafe sex for many gay males and it is not by practicing lesbian-like monogamy that the end to the AIDS epidemic will be realized. Gay and bisexual males do not have the general sexuality manifested by contemporary lesbians; they have more in common, however, with the traditional (lower-class) butch-femme sexualities that middle-class mostly white (often highly hypocritical) lesbians have sought to destroy because such sexualities were deemed 'politically' incorrect. In the final analysis, gay males are not lesbians!  Gay and bisexual males are..., and the problem has always been "understanding" what they are and why, the same also applies for heterosexual-identified males. Without understanding, there is no hope, and feminist sexual ideology has been, in my opinion, one of the greatest impediment to not only understanding gay and bisexual male sexuality (for which there have been lethal AIDS-related consequences), but also lesbian sexualities, and the other male and female sexualities."
 
 

A 2003/05 Update. Addition in 2009-2010

One of the results from a qualitative study of 104 young gay men from Vancouver, B.C. was presented at the 11th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research in Winnipeg in April 2002: "Beliefs about "cum", condoms and intimacy among young gay men (YGM) in the context of rising HIV incidence in Vancouver." (Abstract) (Authors) The results were general consonant with concepts reported in "The Seminal Truth": "For many YGM, cultural beliefs regarding the significance of "cum" are related to intimacy; those who had seroconverted reported more consistently positive and intimate associations with "cum" and its sexual exchange. For these men, condoms were seen as a barrier to intimacy and "real" sex.Within consensual sero-concordant sexuality, HIV-positive gay men often did not consider or conceptualize the need for sexual protection. For these men, condoms had negative cultural connotations often experienced as barriers to the exchange of "cum," which signified a level of desired and unexplored intimate acceptance."

In another presentation related to the same qualitative study of 104 young gay men from Vancouver, B.C. - "Sex, intimacy and power: The lived experiences of young gay men (YGM) in the context of rising HIV infections in Vancouver" (Abstract) (Authors) presented at the 11th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research in Winnipeg in April 2002 - the results were again consonant with concepts reported in "The Seminal Truth":  "Results indicate that despite early heterosexual conditioning, monogamy is an elusive concept in YGM's sexual lives. Gay men's relationships can be characterized by the term serial and non-serial gay polyandry. Regular and sero-discordant coupling occurs within a polyandrous cultural context wherein multiple relationships are influenced by various constructs of power and status. YGM's beliefs about power are intricately tied to meanings imbued in both penetrative and receptive roles in anal intercourse known as topping and bottoming. Men who socially identify as "bottoms" relearn to use their bodies and minds. To facilitate bottoming, drug use ­ including nitrite inhalants and alcohol ­ is a means to disinhibit or disengage; exacerbating further higher risks associated with unprotected receptive anal sex."

In addition, another presentation related to the same study - "A process of vulnerablelization exacerbates the risk for HIV infection among young gay men (YGM)" presented at the 11th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research in Winnipeg in April 2002 - noted that young gay males are often enough preyed upon, especially when making contact with gay communities at a young age when they are very vulnerable. For more on this vulnerability of adolescent gay males and the fact that HIV prevention researchers have generally (purposefully?) ignored this reality, see: A Highly Neglected Issue: Boys Who Have Sex With Men. In this respect, the authors of the Vancouver study(ies) noted: "Few studies address the socio-cultural contexts of young gay men's (YGM) early lives that inform landscapes of vulnerability." - "Recent seroconversion data indicate that regular and significant relationships are potent predictors for HIV infection. However, after 15 years of research few studies address the intimate/affective lives of young gay men (YGM). Even less is understood regarding the power dynamics that characterize YGM's intimate sexual lives."

The meaning of semen - or "cum" - has only begun to be explored in a qualitative research and the results have not yet influenced quantitative research as made evident when reading the conclusion of "Determinants of sexual risk behaviour among young gay and bisexual men: A two-city comparison" (Vancouver's Vanguard Cohort & Montreal's Omega Cohort) also presented at the 11th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research in Winnipeg in April 2002. "High-risk behaviour among MSM in both cities was associated with nitrite inhalant use and sex in public and commercial sex venues. Prevention efforts must incorporate issues around substance use and public sex venues in order to reduce HIV risk behaviour." It must be noted, however, that no amount of drug use or seeking sex in public venues will result in contracting HIV unless the individuals involved also engage in receiving semen likely infected with HIV, and this outcome will most often occur in associations with desires that another male's semen be incorporated into one's body. This is the important concept explored in "The Seminal Truth?"

By 2005, in "The anatomy of a forbidden desire: men, penetration and semen exchange" by Dave Holmes and Dan Warner (Nursing Inquiry, 12(1): 10-20: Abstract), the issue of 'semen" is mentioned. The Abstract end with:

"We found that while the exchange of semen constitutes a dangerous and irrational practice to healthcare professionals, it is nevertheless a significant variable in the sexual lives of barebackers that needs to be taken into consideration in the provision of healthcare services."
It is not only for barebackers (those who have unprotected anal sex), however, that the exchange of semen is very important.


Shernoff M (2005). Without Condoms: Unprotected Sex, Gay Men & Barebacking. London: Routledge. Amazon. Bareback mountain - Interview de Michael Shernoff.  Related Article by Michael Shernoff: "Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers." Excerpt:
Semen Exchange and Emotional Connection

Vincke and colleagues (2001) found that "the incorporation of semen is an important value for many in gay cultures, a means of showing devotion, belonging, and oneness. Unsafe sex can therefore be an expression of positive values and of good feelings" (p. 58). There is something deeply erotic, profoundly connecting and, some feel, even sacred about one person giving his most private and special fluid, semen, to the other as a gift of love and a symbolic joining of two souls. The many levels of meaning and special significance that giving and receiving of semen has for gay men cannot be underestimated as a contributing factor to the rise in barebacking -- especially in romantic couples, as will be examined in Section 2 of this book. Early in the second decade of the AIDS epidemic Odets wrote, "Now that a decade of prohibition has made semen exchange relatively unusual and 'special,' it has become all the more powerful and meaningful" (Odets, 1994, p. 432). Obviously, what it means to give or receive semen varies from one gay man to another. Some have described drinking semen as literally ingesting the vitality, strength, manliness, or very essence of the man whose semen they either drank or received anally. There are men who feel that sharing their own or receiving the semen of a lover is a visceral as well as symbolic gift of love or a spiritual communion. There are those who revel in experiencing the esthetic and sensual pleasures in giving or receiving semen. By no means is this a comprehensive list. The meaning of sharing semen between two men is as varied as the men who engage in this act...
 

The authors of "Beliefs about "cum", condoms and intimacy among young gay men (YGM) in the context of rising HIV incidence in Vancouver" are
C Buchner, AJ Schilder, ML Miller, S Martindale, MT Schechter, MV O’Shaughnessy, RS Hogg, P Spittal. They are from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS; the Department of Health Care & Epidemiology, University of British Columbia; or the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Authors of "Sex, intimacy and power: The lived experiences of young gay men (YGM) in the context of rising HIV infections in Vancouver" are Schilder AJ, Buchner CS, Miller ML, Martindale SL, Schechter MT, O'Shaughnessy MV, Hogg RS, and Spittal P. from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada. Paper presented at the 11th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research in Winnipeg in April 2002 and at the Int Conf AIDS 2002 Jul 7-12; 14:(abstract no. E11612).

Bering, Jesse (2010). An ode to the many evolved virtues of human semen. Scientific American. Full Text.  

Schilder AJ, Orchard TR, Buchner CS, Miller ML, Fernandes KA, Hogg RS, Strathdee SA (2008). 'It's like the treasure': beliefs associated with semen among young HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay men. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 10(7): 667-79. Abstract.

Holmes D, Gastaldo D, O’Byrne P, Lombardo A. (2008). Bareback Sex: A Conflation of Risk and Masculinity. International Journal of Men’s Health, 7(2), 171-191. Full Text.

Some Paper Related to Semen Perceptions:

Lakhani A, Gandhi K, Collumbien M (2001). Addressing semen loss concerns: towards culturally appropriate HIV/AIDS interventions in Gujarat, India. Reproductive Health Matter, 9(18): 49-59. Abstract.

Léobon A, Frigault L-R (2006?). La sexualité bareback : d’une culture de sexe à la réalité des prises de risqueFull Text. Full Text.

Coast E (2007). Wasting semen: context and condom use among the Maasai. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 9(4): 387-401. Abstract.

Reynolds E (2007). 'Pass the Cream, Hold the Butter': Meanings of HIV Positive Semen for Bugchasers and Giftgivers. Anthropology & Medicine, 14(3): 259-266. Abstract.

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