I've spent what seems like an unhealthy amount of time on the Internet over the past few days, researching, for the most part, 2 things.
Positively, I've been looking very hard into German exchange programs, to spend my senior year, next year, in Germany or Austria in an immersion program. I'm already in the middle an application for a scholarship, and I've just started and need to discuss with my parents the application I'm starting for a host of others.
Finally, I've been looking into regional organizations as well, as many of the organizations I see are based either nationally or in a different part of the country, and only offer scholarships that are national, which is good, or regional, which I can't apply to since they're in a different part of the country.
I was originally apprehensive about spending a year away from my family and friends and language and shit, but not at all anymore, not even a little bit. All the nervousness and fear is now just excitement by the very prospect that I could possibly be spending next year in Germany or Austria.
If I get accepted, I'm sure I'll feel no shortage of nervous anticipation before the actual exchange, but in a totally good way.
I think it mostly comes from my new comprehension and awareness of death that came from my little bit of a scare over the past few months.
Realizing that I'm going to die, even though I dodged HIV this time, it's going to be something else, someday. And being a religious unaffiliate, I don't specifically believe in any afterlife. There might me one, but I don't personally know of any reason there has to be, so therefore I'll assume there isn't.
And the knowledge and just the understanding of what that really means has made much bolder on many things, not least of which is this German exchange thing I'm just lusting after.
Speaking of which, my second Internet topic I've spent inordinate amounts of time researching, rather more negatively, has been HIV.
Have you guys ever heard of bug-hunting?
Supposedly, there are certain gay guys out there, bug-hunters, that actively seek out to catch HIV by having unprotected sex with HIV-positive guys.
This can take the form of bug-catching parties, which can supposedly take 2 general forms.
In one, "Russian Roulette", there's a large group of people, 1 of whom is HIV-positive, but only they and the host know it. Everyone else, HIV-negative, don't know who the "poz" guy is, and seek to have unprotected sex with every person at the orgy.
The other, rather more dubious one, is supposedly where there's one "neg" bottom, and several "poz" tops, who all take turns having unprotected sex with the "neg" bottom, leading to a high risk of infection for the bottom.
Now, my take on all that is that "bug-hunters" per se, probably don't exist much.
Gay culture has always had a lot of promiscuity to it in the United States, mostly because we're a pretty conservative culture that until very recently has largely repressed gays, leading repressed gays to seek the sanctuary of the gay underground of the cities, where they fit in, being brought into a very promiscuous culture.
With that in mind, it wouldn't surprise me that there are no shortage of young gays out there from broken or intolerant homes who have very little foresight, and simply don't care who they have sex with, protected or not.
I'd even be willing to bet that there are similar, very short-term thinking guys, who would find having unprotected sex with a positive guy to be hot.
But I'm not sure that there's anyone out there who deliberately wants to catch HIV just to have HIV, I think there's those who don't care, and those who find the danger to be a major turn-on, with no thought to the future.
Frankly, I can somewhat understand that. A weird thing about me, I like to play Civilization, mostly Civ 3. (I got Civ 4, played it, and didn't like it, so I went back to Civ 3. Then I got Civ 5, and I haven't tried it out much though, because of my addiction to Civ 3)
And a weird thing I've noticed, is that conquering and assimilating other cultures gives me a legitimate boner.
It's a little hard to jack off to, because conquering and assimilating is only a vaguely sexy concept, but sexy nonetheless.
I think a lot of people find very sexy the concepts of danger, corruption, conquering, and dominance.
Having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person is about the most extreme expression possible of all those, it's incredibly dangerous, there's an element of "corruption" (with HIV), being conquered, and dominated.
Of course, though, as I've figured out, all the time I have to decide between what's short-term sexy, and long-term smart.
I've made great strides with the scare I just recently had towards being in the always long-term smart category.
But I'm not perfect.
I find the ways to avoid doing things I'll regret doing later is to experiment, try thinking about the prospect right after I've jacked off. If it still seems like a good idea, go for it, if not, for fuck's sake, don't.
And then, during the times when I'm really horny, think about what I love so much, in the future. Think of going to Germany, Africa, working for NGOs to provide humanitarian aid, nature, mountains, all the things I love,
And that usually works, some.
It's very unfortunate circumstances have led some people to abandon all caution and prospects for the future.
Part of that might be due to the advent of the anti-retroviral drugs that can now be used to combat HIV.
Before anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in the 80's and 90's, if you caught HIV, you had, on average, 12-15 years to live, and then HIV would kill you.
In other words, if you caught at a relatively young age, and avoided an unfortunate accident, HIV would be inevitably the cause of your death.
But in recent years, huge advances have been made in fighting the disease with drugs designed to inhibit reproduction of the virus.
Receiving ART has been able to pull patients on the brink of death with AIDS back and raise their T-cell counts again, and reduce their level of virus (viral load) to undetectable levels.
What's the problem, then? HIV isn't so bad.
Well, there's still a host of problems associated with HIV that can't be fixed right now.
First, of course, the anti-retrovirals are expensive, and a significant financial burden for the rest of your life.
But more seriously, HIV causes other problems.
First of all, though the vast majority of people HIV kills aren't from HIV itself, but from diseases people catch once HIV destroys their immune systems.
But HIV in itself, even on ART, causes some problems in itself.
HIV has been shown to cause dementia, with somewhere in the neighborhood of half of HIV patients showing inflammation in the brain, and declines in mental function, most often not even noticeable, but sometimes very severe.
And remember, that's caused by HIV itself, and HIV can't be cured.
Similarly, HIV has been found to seemingly speed up the aging process. Since the HIV pandemic is still fairly new, they don't really know how people who've been saved by ART will still function with HIV as they age while having the virus for 30, 40, 50 years.
But early results from among the first patients to be saved in the 90's from death by ART seem to show they're in worse condition, and seemingly older condition, than similar age HIV-negative people.
This is probably due to stress placed on the body from constant immune activation.
Third, and perhaps worst, even on ART, HIV can't be removed from the intestinal tract. It can't be cured.
I've always wondered why HIV can't be cured, there's all kinds of stories of people who take the anti-retrovirals, get an undetectable viral load, and their T-cell count rebounds to totally normal levels, over 1000.
So why, then, is it so hard to wipe out the last bits of HIV, with a strong immune system, when the immune system is meant to, and most of the time is very good at, removing parasites, including viruses, from the body?
The answer seems to be that most tests of HIV viral load and T-cell count come from the peripheral blood, the blood in your veins and arteries.
But only about 2-5% of your white blood cells, and the HIV virus, hang out in your blood. The vast majority hang out in lymph nodes, sort of the party hubs of the immune system, and the organs.
Especially important, seemingly, to HIV, is in the intestinal tract.
About 60% of your white blood cells hang out in what's known as Gut-associated-lymphoid-tissue, or GALT.
Just days after infection by HIV, the virus reaches your GALT, and totally fucks the T-cells hanging out there, the majority of T-cells in your body.
While the effects of HIV might not show up in your peripheral blood for weeks, it's immediately apparent in the GALT.
After a few weeks of HIV in your body, after your T-cell count gets savaged down from a normal of ~1000 to ~400-500, your immune system responds aggressively, brings your T-cell count way back up, viral load goes down to a set level, where it remains for many years, slowly lowering your T-cell count, unless ART is brought in that brings viral load way down and T-cells up once again.
But most of that happens in your peripheral blood.
In the GALT, there's a massive loss of T-cells immediately, within days and weeks of infection, and a much smaller gain back in the next few weeks than you'll get in your blood.
Even when ART is started, though viral load goes way down and T-cells go up in the blood, the change is much less noticeable in the GALT, which is a main reason the virus can't be cured. We just can't get it out of the GALT.
In other words, immediately after infection, there's quick, and largely permanent damage to the T-cells in your intestinal tract.
What does that mean, besides making the virus a bitch to cure?
They're not entirely sure.
First, they don't know exactly if it's necessary to have so many T-cells, 60% of the total, in the GALT.
Second, it also actually offers somewhat hope. They've found that if you can start anti-retrovirals just days or weeks after exposure, you can stop HIV from rapidly savaging the T-cells in the GALT, and having a dramatically better prognosis if HIV can be kept largely out of the GALT.
But there are indisputable problems nonetheless.
These involve digestion problems in people with chronic HIV, including diarrhea, lactose intolerance, gas and bloating, and sometimes rapid weight loss.
That's a problem experienced at all stages of the disease.
Another problem is the hugely weakened immune system of the GALT allowing bacteria that normally hang out in the gut to roam free into the blood stream, further burdening the already overworked immune system to fight these new infections.
As they do more and more work, they find that HIV isn't beaten yet, even with ART doing massive damage to the disease and the pandemic, it's a cunning disease that still causes much damage to humanity.
Trust me, you don't want to catch it.