Redefining Sex and Intimacy: The Sexual Self-Images, Outlooks, and Relationships of Gay Men Living with HIV/AIDS


Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 50614.


This paper examines how gay men living with HIV disease come to terms with the profound sexual implications of their illness. Based on interviews with 25 gay men diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, this paper highlights (a) the disruptions that these men experience in their sexual feelings and self-images as a result of their illness; (b) the challenges they encounter in negotiating and sustaining sexual relationships; (c) the declines they experience in their sexual attractiveness, desire, and capacities as their illness advances; and (d) the changed meanings they give to sex and self as they come to terms with the erotic implications of their illness and try to preserve valued, intimate identities. In focusing on these themes, this paper offers an “insider's view” into key dimensions of the moral experience of gay men with HIV/AIDS. It also illustrates how the moral experience of these men shifts over the course of their illness, especially in response to the changes and challenges that arise in their intimate relationships and subcultural networks.

On a broader, analytic level, this paper addresses a research question that has been neglected in previous studies of the experience of illness—that is, how does serious illness affect the sexuality of diagnosed individuals, particularly their construction of sexual and intimate identities? Through examining this question, this paper contributes to and extends the growing interactionist literature on the consequences of illness for self.