Following the killer flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919, which took 50 million lives, the ensuing decade became the "Roaring '20s," where illegal and often homespun booze raged through the masses and a hit song called "The Charleston" packed dancefloors. The song was quite a departure from the sleepy jazz tunes of the age and saw skirt hems go shorter so everyone could do the knee-knocking dance moves it inspired.
Welcome to 2021, almost 100 years to the day of the last pandemic. Yet, unlike the last one that literally had to infect a large part of the population (and like COVID, kill millions) for immunity to take hold and end lockdowns, we have the miracle of science that brought us not one, but multiple vaccines against the disease. In the U.S., everyone who wants a vaccination can obtain one.
After 14 months, America is waking up to a life without the horrifying death tolls or daily fear of just a few weeks ago. Schools are relaxing social distancing and indoor spaces opening, albeit with restrictions at the time of this writing. LGBTQ+ vacation meccas from Provincetown to Fire Island, Wilton Manors, and Palm Springs are suddenly experiencing reservations again. Suddenly, after a year in isolation, many in our LGBTQ+ community are about to run wild.
Being an older Gen Xer, I'd like to offer a few words of advice. These words come from someone who's the first generation of gay men on HIV-preventing PrEP. I decided to embrace my true self after 9/11, witnessing the horrors of ground zero firsthand while running the food tent feeding recovery workers. The decision to lead my authentic life allowed me to come out in a loveless marriage, leave the cushy confines of corporate America in one of the worst downturns in financial history by starting my own business with my new life partner, and make a determination to look at every new moment as a new chance to show love.
COVID has only affirmed that life is so fleeting. I have a feeling that many of us are starting a similar embrace of life. For many, this time is going to be like an awakening to fill our deprived senses, soothe our troubled souls, and if I dare be honest, fuck the traumatizing memories of forced isolation and everyday battles with the disease out of our brains, with one sweet orgasm after another. Are you prepared for the Era of Orgasm?
Here's some helpful tips to be ready for navigating this new era:
1. Get vaccinated. Do what it takes to get the COVID vaccine. My partner and I were able to get the J&J "one and done" vaccine through a FEMA pilot site in Miami. I can't tell you how liberating it feels once you know the vaccine is in your body (and side effects have worn off). The freedom from the pending doom of catching, or worse, giving the disease to someone else is exhilarating. As we are starting to see with the cruise lines, many travel destinations and public venues, like dance clubs, may not allow entry without proof of vaccination.
2. See or set up your primary physician. Having a primary care doctor is so imperative. Have a physical before you sow your wild oats this summer. Have a talk with your doctor about PrEP or, if you're living with HIV, discuss if your regimen is working for you.
Test for all STDS so you have a benchmark of where you are. Many adults have been exposed to HPV (human papillomavirus) before the vaccine came along. It is incurable, easily spread, and does cause longterm health concerns.
Make sure you're fully vaccinated for COVID, flu, HPV, Hepatitis A and B, and consider a meningitis vaccine.
Last but not least, talk mental health with your doctor. We've been through a hell of a time. Many of us have lost people due to COVID. Forty percent of us, according to the CDC are suffering a mental health or addiction issue as a result of COVID. If you need support overcoming things, ask for help. Six months ago, I fell downstairs and busted my knee. I was in traction for 12 weeks. My doctor said to me, "What else do you need?" I told him, "I need an antidepressant to power me through rehab and recovery, on top of work, family, COVID, and more." He prescribed the appropriate medication for me right away and it helped me stay true to a very vigorous rehabilitation recovery and solitary confinement for much of the time.
3. Assess you. Now that you are free and healthy (or on the way to being healthy), it's now time to assess what you want to be happy. You've had much time to think about it when in quarantine, but now is the time to make a plan to get and keep you happy. I realized after 9/11 that I wanted to get out of corporate America, do something fulfilling with my work, find true love, and raise my kids to be the best humans they can be. And while it took some time and not exactly the path I thought for each part of my plan, I did all those things. Do the same for you. If short term, you just want to go on vacation and fuck your brains out. Do it (safely!). Long term, set a goal to find love, a job you love, or give back in ways that help others still struggling.
4. Be honest. If you need to open your relationship sexually, set away from it, or really work on it in ways that fulfill both of your needs, be honest, starting with yourself and others impacted by your decisions. Many of us have not been able to embrace our true identities, desires, or pleasures. Just be honest with those you love. If relationships end, they end. If they grow, it's wonderful. The bottom line is you deserve nothing less than your own happiness.
5. Be safe. When the movie Juno came out, I used it as a reason to have "the talk" with my pre-adolescent but appropriate-age kids. I said, "What are three things we learned from that movie? One, is you can always come to me for help. Two, is always have a condom. Three, is I'm way too young to be called PopPop!"
Being safe in this time of orgasm is going to be the toughest of all. In fact, many of us on PrEP (and not) have relaxed our condom rule. While I can suggest wearing a condom, I know firsthand many won't. So, have that talk with your partners. Let them know your status, from HIV to COVID, HPV, and anything else. Expect and politely ask the same in return. Being consensual in the act of love and sex is a must, so be respectful of each other's wishes on safety.
I will leave you with one final bit of advice on your orgasms; enjoy them. Someone once told me that orgasms reveal what a tiny slice of heaven feels like all the time. Whether you believe in such a place or not, I think most of us can agree that orgasms are the most heavenly feelings and they drive out all other thoughts, especially bad ones. If done regularly without becoming addictive, which it easily can after the traumatizing time of COVID, having an orgasm is healthiest thing you can do for your mind, body, and soul -- a rare combination and a natural therapeutic. After this past year of not touching, isolating and withholding love, expect an explosion of desire, both mental and physical.
Enjoy this era. Take care of you. Don't hurt others. Be happy. We all deserve it because we've learned firsthand, life is fleeting.
Michael Kelley is a resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., and Provincetown, Mass. He wrote this piece in consultation with Dr. William Shay, Primary Care Physician, Outer Cape Health Services, Provincetown, Mass.