D Gregory Smith

Neg, U B 2

Filed By D Gregory Smith | November 10, 2009 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV/AIDS, LGBT youth, safe sex, serosorting

I have done it.

At least once.

I know it's not uncommon. I hear it from friends, clients, strangers and it's even discussed in the media. So I'm pretty sure plenty of people reading this have done it, too. Or at least know someone who's done it.

I've had sex without discussing my HIV status or that of my partner.

This is not one of my prouder admissions. In fact, I'm imagining hate mail and hundreds of electronic voices screaming "How could you?" from my inbox, even though I know I'm not alone. But I think we need to have the conversation, because shame and fear aren't going to change certain facts.

I was reading a post on another blog entitled, "Refusing to have sex with HIV+ people: Why it's not a prevention strategy and why it's harming our communities." The author was making some excellent points about the reality and possible repercussions of gay men dismissing HIV+ men as potential partners. Seems like a good strategy on the surface, but I have to say, it's not easy to be a Poz guy who's single. Demeaning, in fact. All one has to do is look online through a few personal ads to find phrases like "disease free only," "clean, U B 2," and "Neg only" to see that many men who have sex with men are actively recruiting or demanding negative men as sex partners. There's just one problem, though.

People lie.

I was leading a group of HIV+ men once and the subject of status disclosure came up. I asked the group, "At what point do you tell your partner that you're positive?" I will never forget one response: "If it's just a trick, I almost never tell. Otherwise I'd never get laid."

Now, I know a lot of HIV+ people, and there are not very many who would admit to doing that, and some who certainly never have. I also have spent a lot of time studying the human head and heart, and I know there aren't very many things that people won't do for love, or even for affection, not to mention sex. I am not saying that every HIV+ person out there is an irresponsible liar, hell-bent on infecting the world because of internalized shame and self-loathing. I don't believe that.

What I do believe is that we're afraid to talk about safe sex. We're afraid to talk about HIV or other STD's because it "kills the mood". We're too afraid (and maybe too tired of the topic) to consider the difficulties of having relationships that negotiation implies, even with a trick.

I work with young gay men in Montana, talking about safe sex, HIV, STD's and general health issues. Once at a retreat, one kid asked me "Isn't it okay to have sex with someone you know is negative?"

"You mean unprotected sex?", I asked.

"Well, yeah."

"How do you know he's negative?"

"Well, he told me."

I just wonder if we've created a false sexual culture, one based on the flimsiest kind of trust. I wonder if we've created an environment that promotes lying as a defense against rejection. I wonder if we're adding to the stigma, guilt and shame Poz people carry, which can lead to depression and even poorer choices. I wonder if we're so caught up in getting laid that we're willing to wear our avoidance like a badge of honor.

And avoidance is just another form of denial.

The truth is, HIV is part of our community, our culture. Someone in the CDC recently said MSM are 50 times more infected as a community than any other statistical group. It's also part of the world's culture, and it's not going to go away anytime soon.

But another truth is, safe sex is extremely effective. Negative guys have a miniscule risk of exposure when correctly practicing safe sex with a positive partner. In short, safe sex works.

As a therapist, I am trained to withhold judgments and work toward understanding. As an HIV+ gay man, I want to do what I can to keep others from becoming infected, because having HIV is difficult, scary, demoralizing and eventually debilitating. And the more people we have in our community unwilling to talk about it, the more infections we're going to have.

So, let's talk.

Have you done it?

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What's the difference between having sex with a man who tells you he is HIV+ and another that ASSURES you he is negative?

One of them is lying.

You can never be absolutely sure you are HIV neg.

Yes you can be sure you are negative. Using protection always, and then abstain the entire window period before getting tested.

Its important you use protection every single time, though. You can't get with a guy who wants to have unprotected sex and then says "I've been tested and I always have safe sex." Obviously not always.

I am simply floored that this has been far more common in my life than not.

its got to be safe sex every single time.

That said I've HAD unsafe sex, and I've been VERY VERY LUCKY. I have always tested negative, despite the chances I took in the past. But it only takes one time. A friend of mine wasn't so lucky. He had unsafe sex once. He's positive now. It only takes one mistake, one lie, one misjudgment, one person who is sure he's not infected, but doesn't know that he has been, and is now passing it on to you.

I'm 44. Before 2001 I had fairly frequent sex. I was so tired of safe sex, negotiating safe sex, all of it, that I was very happy to partner up in a mongomous relationship. Then in 2007 he died suddenly in an accident, and back into the dating pool I went. In the last year sex has become so scary, so hard, that I've given it up. And here's why.

1. I learned the hard way that men lie. I met a great guy who didn't tell me he was positive until the third time we had sex. Afterwards. At that moment, I realized I had an open cut on my finger which I hadn't noticed. I had got his pre-cum on said finger. So much for safe sex. Luckily it turned out okay, but I had 2 months of major depression before I got the test. Oh, and we had discussed safe sex when we first met.

2. This was about the 5th such time of worrying about getting infected. I decided that I just couldn't live with this kind of worry any more, I was going to end up with a heart attack. I decided since I couldn't tell who was lying, who knew their status, who thought they knew their status, I just couldn't have sex anymore.

3. What the heck am I worried about? Trying to negotiate actual safe sex. It's different for everybody. I've learned that even if you both agree, the other guy can have a different idea and foist it on you in the heat of the moment. What about cuts on the body and getting pre-cum or cum on them? What about problem gums or canker sores on the tongue or a soreness on the lining of the inside of your mouth? I have this all the time, can it allow HIV in during oral sex? What about a guy getting precum on his hand, not telling you, that putting his finger inside your anus? Or just rubbing the outside of your anus with this precum covered finger? What about him getting his precum on his hand, then getting it on the condom which is going inside of you?

4. Other diseases? I got Moluscum once in the 90's. Just from rubbing against someone else during sex. Again, so much for safe sex. I thought this would be fine. Who knew?

4. Another problem. I was getting my back shaved by a guy I was seeing. He knicked a pimple that drew blood. Later as he was throwing the razor away, he said he had to because he had cut himself as well. That led to another 2 month terror because at that time neither one of us knew if the other was positive. I don't know when he cut himself, before, during, or after he knicked me.

Sometimes the worry got so much I thought maybe I should just get it and then I could stop all this worry. I finally just stopped having sex. The other guy would get angry because I was so nervous. I'd tend to jump whenever his hand went to certain spots, or I'd move away at certain times. I only wanted to do oral with a condom on, which makes lots of guys turn you down for sex. I'd like to meet someone again for a relationship, but men cheat.

Yes, I know this all makes me sound crazy. I'm not, although at times the stress really got me down. Trying to write all my thoughts down is difficult, hopefully someone can make sense of all this without hating me. Perhaps someone can see themselves in my comments?

I've been the so-called "worried well" before myself, so I can totally relate. The Web site "The Body" has several forums on it that I suggest you read. I think the best way to alleviate this almost STD hypochondria is to make smart choices.

There is only one sane way to navigate the having of multiple sex partners. Don't bother asking them their status and don't try to guess it. Assume all and any of them are positive and protect yourself accordingly. Every time.

More specifically, if you are negative assume all your partners are positive, and if you are positive, vice versa. Clearly, someone HIV+ must assume responsibility for the protection of their partner(s) as well as themselves.

(I don't want to speak for Father Tony, but I feel certain that that's what he meant.)

While on this subject, it bears stating that in many states an HIV+ person is required by law to inform a sexual partner of his HIV status if there is any reasonable chance of transmission --- this implies that if you start out intending to be absolutely safe, then you better follow through. Furthermore, if you do not disclose, the other partner can cause legal problems for you even if it turns out that transmission did not actually take place.

,I've had sex without discussing my HIV status or that of my partner.

Positive folks always get the blame for this, but it's negative folks who do it even more often. I'm guilty of it myself. Sometimes I've consciously thought about asking and decided not to. I might like it if a partner disclosed their status to me, but I've got no right to complain if I never bring up the subject.

It helps, though, that in the majority of cases the answer wouldn't change my behavior.

I'm hearing a lot of black-and-white thinking in trying to ponder all this - when the answer is gray. As a poz guy I'd like to say: Seeking 'negative guys only' is a bonafide and arguably healthy way to stay hiv-negative - provided you realize that it is not foolproof. Nothing is really; and that's the gray of it.
This is an ages-old conundrum now; and it's inherent on all players to work through it as wisely as possible. Abstaining from sex 'entirely' is fine - for awhile. Doing so is a strategy for working thru ambivalence and fear.
And that's the goal - to work thru it AND emerge HIV-negative at the end of the day. 100% of us can do that with a bit of thought and forebearance. And that's what needs to be emphasized - it's a do-able thing.
As a poz guy, I seek to have sex only with poz guys. Yes, it's less hassle at a glance. But even anonymous sex always carries a risk that is just as large as disease. Someone may, might, could fall in love with me - or me with him. My experience is that most negative guys have great difficulty in these sero-different relationships -as do I. Sadly; there are still plenty enough poz guys in my dating pool to make my 'poz only' stance sufficient. Gladly, there are plenty enough neg. guys these days who can re-enforce each other's negative status with - if not perfect - an enhanced chance of remaining negative.

Father Tony is absolutely right, the only way to negotiate casual sex is by "protecting ourselves accordingly." It should be so simple, at least until you factor in self-esteem, negative body imagery, drinking and drugging, internalized homophobia, the ongoing (horrible!!) stigmatization of HIV+ guys within the gay community, etc. etc.

A few years ago there was a national campaign in Canada based around the assumptions we make in regard to sex-partners HIV status. Posters went up in bars, press releases were issued and people in the HIV prevention world spent lots of time and energy evaluating the "effectiveness" of the campaign. Within a few months the posters were tatty and came down, replaced by the next wave of social marketing, once again replete with hot sex safer sex imagery and catchy sloganeering. Don't get me wrong, I thought the assumptions campaign was great. It (and all the social marketing campaigns that have followed) should have been the starting point for a great conversation among gay men about safer sex. Unfortunatetly, those conversations rarely took place, or if they did- they tended to happen amongst those of us already engaged in the issue, either professionally or personally; in other words - preaching to the choir.

We need to take this discussion out into the community, and we need to do it a lot! We need to talk amongst ourselves about condom fatigue, poz guys with neg guys, social class, HIV stigma and all the other issues listed above (and more!) that impact how, when and why we make love, or just have sex. If we're going to effectively protect ourselves, we need to get the conversation going.That's why I love Bilerico & Lifelube, and that's why I thank you so much for having posted this!

I know I will probably get flamed, or called anti gay culture or whatever, but I am thirty and have only had sex with my husband. We had the discussion, I could not have got it, and he only had oral or mutual masturbation prior to me and was already a year after his last encounter, before we started dating. He got tested. One year later on our one year anniveresary we both had real sex.... well tried it took more practice and a longer fuse, but even than we both used a condom, fast foward a year. I asked him to marry me and the condoms came off. Four years later we are still complete sluts for eachother and we have absolutely no fear of AIDS or anyother disease, well possibly a bladder infection but not yet. We also talked about cheating, if either of us are tempted we are going to talk to eachother first and how to handle it. So no I never had sex without antibody evidence, the talk, the prior history, and an establishment of conditions for bearback (monogamy in our case). I think if more people acted this way, we would not have this constant fear in the community and the numbers would decrease and become more like the striaght community.
I can not say I would or would not date an HIV positive person, it might be "safe" but if he got it from doing one night stand, I do not think I would trust him which means no relationship and no chance for sex.

Trust between partners is great, but I must say, just for the record, that I've had several clients who were in the same situation who later tested positive for HIV. Have you ever been tested? I am not knocking your or anyone else's relationship, but experience has shown me that personally taking charge of your health, including regular HIV testing can often save a lot of heartache down the road...

I don't necessarily agree with the writer regarding people who advertise that they limit themselves to others who are negative. It is a perfectly legitimate statement. But by writing it in an online ad, that should not take the place of a safe-sex conversation beforehand. No matter what, never bareback. Still, talking to a potential sexual partner about their status and condom use can tell you a lot about them.

Yes, people lie, and some simply don't know. I've been in situations online, though, where I asked a guy if he was negative, to which he replied, "It's cool." Another time I asked the same question, along with several others, yet in his reply he answered everything except HIV status. Things like these to me are red flags.

Nobody deserves HIV or any other STD. Therefore, be honest. If you are infected and you tell the person but then he denies you for sex, you should not hold animosity toward them.

I must agree with Patrick that there are various real-world reasons why a "negatives only" approach is both understandable and tolerable (not ideal, but tolerable) for some HIV-negative guys. For one thing, if you know you are sloppy at restraining yourself to strictly safe sex, then you are adopting such a policy out of self-knowledge that is unfortunate but correct. It's not an excuse for slipping, but it will keep you neg (until your first liar comes along).

Secondly, if you worry about the safe sex experts not knowing what they're talking about and fret that you might catch HIV as if by magic, then having negative partners might be a psychological requirement. You can't tell someone to just "get over it" --- especially if their understanding of microbiology is so absent that they can't imagine why some microbes can be transmitted by casual contact and others can't.

Thirdly, Patrick is correct from a libertarian standpoint --- if a guy doesn't want to have sex with you, then he doesn't have to. The reason doesn't matter, period. It doesn't matter if he is rejecting you because you are HIV+ or because he thinks you are ugly and your mother dresses you funny.

Hearing from neg. guys about their anxiety and depression around contracting hiv from a positive partner---how about the anxiety and depression those of us who are pozzes experience having had unprotected sex and exposing a neg. partner.
I honestly don't know which is worse.

Guys who lie about their status (not just about hiv but about other STDs too??) Ever have a guy tell you on line he had 8" only to find out when he dropped his shorts and you got out your measuring tape and determined that wasn't quite true??? Kinda makes you wonder if he was truthful about his STD status,doesn't it! I've always thought lying became a normal behavior for us gay men who grew up having to lie about our sexual preference. Little wonder we might also lie about our STD status--by omission at least.

Another issue not mentioned is that condoms, at least for most of us make for penetrative sex that is far less satisfying for both bottoms and tops in terms of physical sensation, intimacy and emotional fulfillment. I think _this_ needs to be talked about.

A solution I have found, and I am not claiming that it is fool-proof but it is progress from my bare-backing addiction (Yeah, that's the right term for a lot of guys who bare-back) I avoid penetrative sex. Have found I can still have grrrrreat sex without it:)

Was actually having this conversation with a poz friend the other day and we were talking about the neg. (or unknown status) guys who knowingly bareback with pozzies. Knowing you are a poz does not deter some guys from wanting to bareback. Think the reason is probably about one or both issues I cited in the above paragraphs.

Well this blog was a timely one for me. Met a guy this weekend. We didn't have sex when we met but we have been texting and talking on the phone every day and later today we are going hiking together. Had decided today was the perfect time to disclose my status to him. Just seems to me the best way to sabotoge a relationship is to disclose after you've had sex.

You make an excellent point about the need to explore the thoughts and feelings of Poz persons re: infecting negative partners.

I know it's kept me up at night.

Thanks, Rick.

I think this is a very timely article. I am a 34 year old gay man living in Kansas City, MO who seroconverted 5 years ago whilst engaging in a situation where rules were agreed upon (my having anal sex with a poz guy while I was neg. Rule was he couldn't cum in me. Things going going and I clearly said before during and at the climax, don't cum in me' and the guy promptly said 'too late'. A month later I tested positive. I realize that the behavior I was engaging was filled with risk and I really seek to blame no one other than myself.

I've been on both sides of this issue. I have had irresponsible sex while KNOWING I was positive. I was under the influence of alcohol and the conversation never came up and he tested positive a couple months later. I was the only one he had sex with. The guilt of that put me in a horrifying place. I still, on occasion see him around town at a concert or event and always try to avoid him. I have reconciled with myself enough to have a loving partner now for 9 months. He is negative and we are hyper-aware of these types of situations. Thank you for the article and for this discussion, it made me think and I hope others can learn from the examples in the article and in the comments.

We had a great discussion last weekend about what you put for status on hookup websites. Seems like to be effective guys should consider changing their status to "Ask me" or "Don't know" and then this would allow for discussion about HIV and, hopefully, safer sex practices. Also, hookup sites should consider changing "Negative" to "Presumed Negative". No one is certain with the window period. Overall, treat everyone as if positive or having STD's. It allows for the necessity to use condoms every time regardless of status.

You can't be serious??! I think it's crazy to have sex with somone you know is positive. As a bottom, the risk is not miniscule.. condoms break-it does happen.. and if u don't believe so, check with ur local hospital to see how many men come in to get the PEP after a condom break. The author obviously has a different perspective on sleeping with Poz gay men b/c he is one. My life is important to me.. more than anything.. I think every gay man should take more precaution with their sex lives and not be sleeping with poz men just for a quick trick. Is that one sexual encounter that important to your life that you're willing to risk your life? Hell no. Wake up. Grow up!

What other disease would we be so cavalier about? If it were possible to catch an incurable form of cancer by having sex with someone, would u do it? No. It's crazy. If anyone is promoting the further spread of this horrific and dangerous virus, it is you!

Scott, as Patrick and I both said above, if you don't want to have sex with HIV+ guys, then you have a perfect right not to. And you don't say so explicitly, but it sounds like you are practicing safe sex in any event, which is great.

However, you missed the most important point in this post, which is [drumroll, please] . . . guys lie about such things.

We have no way of knowing for sure, but I'd bet you dollars to donuts that you are having, or have had, sex with HIV+ guys and don't know it, because you are silly enough to trust their word. So in reality, all you are doing is filtering out the HIV+ guys who are honest and selecting the HIV+ guys who are willing to lie.

It is the safe sex that is keeping you neg, not your policy that HIV+ guys are untouchable.