Mark S. King

Touring an HIV+ Gay Sex Club: Serosorting in Action

Filed By Mark S. King | March 01, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV disclosure laws, HIV prevention, HIV transmission

The idea that HIV positive people still want sex is as old as The Denver Principles, the 1983 manifesto drawn up by gay men with AIDS that demanded "as full and satisfying a sexual and emotional life as anyone else." The document also stated that people with HIV/AIDS have an ethical responsibility to share their status with others.

Today, HIV+ gay men are more open about their status and their preferences (setting aside the increased stigma and discrimination facing HIV positive people of all stripes who disclose their status these days). In this video blog from My Fabulous Disease (the video is PG rated but the language is explicit), I tour a "Poz4Play" sex party for a frank conversation on barebacking, STD risks, and serosorting.

Serosorting, or limiting sexual partners to those who share your HIV status, has become the de facto prevention technique for many gay men with HIV. Research indicates that the tactic may have value in containing the spread of HIV, but as you might guess, it isn't so effective when it comes to HIV negative gay men who attempt to serosort amongst themselves. People who claim to be negative are often wrong, misinformed or simply lying. HIV positive men who claim to be positive are less likely to be wrong about that fact.

Thumbnail image for BillGrab.jpgOn an important side note: is avoiding HIV enough? Research indicates that poz-on-poz sex is much more likely to include barebacking (unprotected sex), and that means the potential of pitting a sometimes compromised immune system against other sexually transmitted diseases. If the idea of catching gonorrhea simply makes you feel nostalgic, what about (the far more dangerous) Hepatitis C? A recent study found that 75 percent of new hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections in HIV-positive men occurred in those with no history of injection drug use (IDU) - the more typical transmission route for HCV. Barebacking is the suspected culprit.

Everywhere on the gay hook-up radar, positive men are asking, telling, and serosorting. "Disease free, UB2" in online profiles is being countered by the cheeky "HIV positive and plan to stay that way, UB2." Meeting sites are engaging in some serosorting of their own by offering poz dating and hookup options.

And over at the gay bareback porn company Treasure Island Media (TIM), director Paul Morris has named it "the year of living positive (sic)," with a series of videos featuring openly HIV positive actors. While one might appreciate Mr. Morris' enthusiastic wish that everyone "fuck freely and without fear," he's a little light on the real-life implications of such a lifestyle.

I exchanged e-mails with Paul Morris in an attempt to interview a real-life couple he just re-signed to exclusive bareback video naughtiness. The couple includes an HIV negative top and a positive bottom, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to educate gay men by going "behind the scenes" and speaking to these two actors in a way that focused on their real life and didn't demonize them.

Paul was complimentary of my blog and confident that his actors would communicate with me if I would e-mail my questions to them. I did so, and my queries included: how big an issue was HIV to them? Did one worry for the other's long term health? Was the positive partner on meds? How did they handle feeling judged by those who disagreed with their bareback porn star habits?

Thumbnail image for Paul-Morris-Nametag.jpgNote to self: do not attempt to "get real" with bareback porn studs or their handlers. I never heard from the actors, or another peep out of Paul Morris. His silence betrays his grandstanding on the topic (his own press release gleefully refers to him as "universally reviled," which would look great on his name tag at the next Gay Erotic Expo). Or perhaps Paul Morris really does know his audience, and figures they're uninterested in his stars once the DVD is back in the sock drawer.

It's also possible Treasure Island Media is just distracted with appealing their recent $21,000 fine by California OSHA for, among other things, not developing procedures for things as basic as Hepatitis B vaccinations. Maybe the Oscar winning song is right, and it really is hard out there for a pimp... or for a porn impresario.

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Dan O'Neill Dan O'Neill | March 1, 2011 3:43 PM

Great piece and video, Mark. It's worth emphasizing the risk of HIV positive men being re-infected with a new strain, something you mentioned briefly in the video. Often I've heard from HIV positive men that "there is no risk from contracting HIV again" if they're already infected. However, this is simply not true. Re-infection with a new strain can have detrimental effects on one's prognosis, as a new strain that likely bears some resistance to one's current drug regimen will expand rapidly in one's body, having a devastating toll on one's already suppressed immune system.

Also, you're right about HepC. It was once thought that sexual transmission was a highly unlikely mode of HepC transmission - most commonly observed in IV drug users or patient's who received infected blood transfusions. However, there has been a rising incidence among MSM whose only risk factor has been unprotected anal intercourse. Another layer to this growing body of evidence is that more traumatic sex acts (fisting, etc.) tend to facilitate HepC transmission even more.

Again, thanks for this informative piece.

Regarding the possibility of Hep-C transmission, when you say "unprotected anal intercourse" does that include rimming? ... I would guess that there is little risk for the guy getting rimmed, but considerable Hep-C risk for the guy doing the rimming. ... Am I right or wrong?

The article failed to mention Bill Gardner, FOUNDER and OWNER of Hot Deseart Knights (HDK) the bareback poorn company that started the first serosorting trend in the bb porn world. Ask Bill yyourself, and tell Bill "Brandon says hello".


Mark, I don't understand what you mean by this:

"Research indicates that the tactic may have value in containing the spread of HIV, but as you might guess, it isn't so effective when it comes to HIV negative gay men who attempt to serosort amongst themselves."

Wouldn't serosorting's effectiveness in preventing the spread of HIV depend on it being effective for HIV- men?

Serosorting applies to anyone -- positive or negative -- who attempts to limit their partners to those with the same HIV status. In the situation outlined in this posting, HIV is being "contained" because no HIV negative person would be exposed to HIV.

But among HIV negative people, this isn't as effective. People think they are negative when they are not. Or they lie. Or they got infected last week and still believe their last HIV test. It's just problematic, even when people sincerely try to practice serosorting who are negative.

It reminds us that there really is no better practice than HIV negative people protecting themselves through safer sex, monogamy, or knowing their partners to the degree that they can trust their HIV status and make decisions based on that.

I love how edgy this video is. You've really scored a hit this time, Mark! I'm shocked it's not been picked up in more places already.

I have been HIV+ for THIRTY YEARS now. All of my long-term lovers and husbands have also been poz. Except for a one-year period (20007-08), when I experimented with dating neg men (one for 3 months, a second for 6 months). The fear and AIDS-phobia I had to put up, being transformed by their fears back into a "diseased pariah," was quite a learning lesson. I will never cross the neg/poz divide line in sex and dating ever again.

Dan O'Neill Dan O'Neill | March 2, 2011 12:59 PM


Good question. Unlike HepA and HepB, which are both transmitted through the fecal oral route (that's the main reason why we see the "employees must wash hands before returning to work" signs in restaurant bathrooms and why shell fish contaminated by sewage water present a high risk of HepA/B infection), Hep C is not transmitted in this way. However, if one has cuts/bleeding around his anus, this is certainly seems possible. As such, all sexually active gay men should be vacinated for Hep A and B. There's no Hep C vaccine.

Also, another point I forgot to mention in my previous post is that being HIV positive is itself a risk fator for HepC transmission - as most of the gay men that appear to be contracting HepC in these studies are HIV positive, as well.

John Gagon | March 2, 2011 2:28 PM

Please correct me if I'm wrong. But won't barebacking poz on poz potentially give one new strains or add possible new load levels to combat? (no pun there please).

Sometimes, on the neg side, we feel a bit put off when we ask. Like one guy I asked, "Are you neg?" and he responded, "your question has my answer". I guess looking back, I was a bit ignorant to pose it that way. A better question might be "what's your status?" (because load levels vary etc). But still, he lost the chance to inform me and gave me a kind of cold shoulder that seemed immediately self-defeating.

You're right about the confidence level in both groups. Mixed sero-couples do exist and safety and good treatments have often meant it can work even long term.

Many neg gay men feel like "you made a mistake and I didn't!" and while there's a bit of truth, the latter is not wholly true. Everyone makes mistakes and we don't play that game with cold and flu season, even if the stakes are's still a principle. Bottom line, in my opinion, is that we should take responsibility for ourselves but also for others who need help and are taking responsibility. Privacy is yet another ball of wax and I tend to side with it.

I appreciate the thought provocation here. I still like learning and engaging and mixing with others. It's just as valuable as trying to stay clean in terms of being educated. And we all need to continue to abide similar principles if we wish to live healthy as a rule.

But I want to ask the question....what do you think is the right way to share one's serostatus? I think I'd rather listen than speak on that one still. I still don't know if I have the right answer there.

John Gagon | March 3, 2011 10:00 AM

I meant to say, what is the right way to "ask" about serostatus if none is forthcoming?

Hummm, interesting. Having sex with your own HIV status to stop HIV. But what IF the person has SAFE SEX with their own HIV status? Then what? Maybe safe sex would be made SAFER. Interesting thought. Go to: for educational videos, Serosorting History (how and why this all was made possible) and helpful information for local Fire Fighters, Police and EMS workers.