Dear Angelo,

I had a HIV scare recently and was convinced I was going to die of AIDS. Since then I've been too afraid to have sex. Porn has been my only outlet. What can I do to get back in the sack?

Signed, Back In The Sack

Dear Back In The Sack,

Sounds like you have a touch of HIV / AIDS anxiety. It's easy to become afraid of anything if you dwell on it too much. For instance, if you concentrated on crashing every time you thought of flying, you wouldn't fly, and you'd be a wreck if you did. Or if you believed that another terrorist attack was going to happen in your town, you'd be housebound and have panic attacks if you went out. You could focus your anxiety on spiders, ghosts, heights, or almost anything and become afraid of that. Sure there's always a slight chance that something bad can happen. That's part of life. But you can't keep your attention fixed on that small probability. HIV and AIDS are valid concerns, but sex is also a healthy part of life.

The way out? You have to take control of your thinking and confront what you fear. Like Abbey Mallard says in Chicken Little, "(you have to) stop messing around and deal with the problem." To overcome any phobia, try rebutting irrational thoughts (fears) with realistic reassuring self-talk, while you gradually expose yourself to the situation, and ride out your accompanying feelings with support.

In your case, review the hard facts about HIV transmission, recognize that there's a continuum of risk ranging from safe sex to unsafe sex, and modify your behavior according to your comfort level. A good strategy may be to begin by making an appointment with a HIV counselor at a free testing site or MD to discuss your concerns and take in the facts. Then you could shut off the porn, go out, and interact with real people. Try making a series of "dates" with someone you like and trust. On the first date just enjoy each other's company. On the next date hold hands. Then cuddle the next time. Graduate to kissing, moving on to mutual masturbation, and eventually to more "hands on" safer sex practices. An alternative would be to just bite the bullet and dive in again.

If you can't lick it on your own have no shame. Consult a professional therapist for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help defeat the fearful "voices." You could be back in the sack with just a few sessions.

All The Best, Angelo.

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