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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Implausible Deniability: Sex and Self-Deception Among HIV-Negative Men

By fogcityjohn

July 18, 2012

In my last post, I wrote about an experience I'd had some time back. To recap briefly, a guy I'd met at the gym asked me out for a drink one evening, and after we'd spent some time sipping beers at a local bar, it became clear he wanted to get physical. So I did what I always do and disclosed my serostatus. He panicked, and I ended up going home confused and frustrated. While such experiences have been rare for me in San Francisco, just last night I had another one. It's led me to ponder the issue of how HIV-negative gay men think about sex and HIV.

First let me set last night's scene for you. One evening a couple of weeks ago, I met an attractive man named N. It wasn't really our first encounter. N was what I'd call a familiar stranger -- a guy I'd seen at the gym off and on for years and whom I'd occasionally see at my favorite coffee shop in the Castro. I finally introduced myself to him, and we chatted for a while. There was a mutual attraction, and so we exchanged contact information. In the following days, we traded text messages, and I ended up asking him to dinner. N said yes.

We met up at a cozy little French restaurant, and over our meal, we gave each other thumbnail sketches of our lives. I have to say I really liked what I heard from N. You see, N is a doctor and a graduate of one of the country's most renowned medical schools. But rather than taking that prestigious degree and going into a highly paid medical specialty, N chose family practice. An immigrant himself, he went to work at a Bay Area community health clinic where he mainly cares for others from his homeland. His patients are largely poor, and most speak little to no English, so N's language skills come in handy. He told me that he was drawn to this kind of work because it fulfilled his need to give back to people who aren't as fortunate as he is.

I was suitably impressed. Here was a man who possessed so many of the things I look for in a guy. He's smart, attractive, and clearly has compassion for others. We also seemed to share similar views on politics, which is important for a political junkie like me.

After we finished eating, both of us wanted to continue the conversation, so he invited me back to his place. We sat on the couch in his immaculate apartment and talked about our prior relationships, our views of dating, and what we hoped to find in a partner. N seemed more standoffish than he'd been earlier in the evening and appeared intent on keeping his distance. He sat at the far end of the couch and made no move to get closer.

I thought maybe N was just a bit shy, or that perhaps he wasn't sure I was attracted to him. At some point, I decided to break the ice, and I told him I found him handsome. I leaned over to give him a kiss, and although he kissed back, he told me it was important that he share his status with me. I wasn't really anticipating sex on the first date, but I'd certainly planned to disclose if it looked like things were headed that way. Since he'd brought the subject up, I half expected him to tell me he was positive. Instead, N told me softly, "I'm negative." "And I'm poz," I replied without missing a beat. His expression froze, so I asked, "Is that a deal breaker?" He responded, "It has been in the past." (From that, I guess I was supposed to surmise that being HIV-positive was still a deal breaker for him.) It was, he said, a question of his "comfort level." So I told him I respected his wishes, got up, put on my jacket, and said good night.

Now here's what confuses me. I know from our conversation that N is not a monk. He mentioned that he'd been meeting and dating different guys for the last several years. He also admitted to the occasional hook-up. I'm going to assume that he only dates or has sex with men who say they're HIV-negative. I'm further going to assume that he only has protected sex with those men. But if both of those things are true, why is he unwilling to date a guy who's poz?

You might suppose he's trying to avoid becoming infected with HIV. Obviously, I can't argue with that goal, but I have to question N's chosen means of achieving it. If, as I suspect, he's having sex with guys whose serostatus he hasn't actually verified, then he's putting himself at just as much risk as he would by having sex with a poz man. In fact, he may be putting himself at greater risk.

Here's why. HIV is widespread among gay men in San Francisco. Unfortunately, a very significant percentage of those who are infected don't know their status. They may think they're negative when they're not. And if a guy is walking around with untreated HIV, then he's a hell of a lot more infectious than a guy like me, who's on effective therapy and has an undetectable viral load. N could very well have dated and had sex with guys who are unaware of their true status. If he has, then his "comfort level" is all an illusion.

So what is he thinking? My hunch is that he's not. N may well be like a lot of HIV-negative gay men I've met. They're in a certain amount of denial when it comes to the realities of HIV, and their choices are based on their emotions rather than fact. They understandably fear infection, and so they want to limit their sexual contacts to other negative men. Problem is, you just can't be sure of another guy's status unless you insist he be tested before you have sex with him. As any gay man knows, this is hardly a practical solution, and I'm unaware of anyone who actually adheres to it. Consequently, in reality, N and men like him are probably having sex with poz men at least some of the time. Given the number of men out there who don't know their current status, it simply isn't plausible to think you can avoid confronting HIV merely by saying no to men who admit to being poz.

Of course, N's a doctor, and I'm sure he's scrupulous about using condoms to protect himself. But that only shows that on some level he knows he can't just take a man at his word when it comes to HIV status. After all, if he truly believed the guys who say they're negative, then he could dispense with all the latex. So if he recognizes the risk of having sex with a man of unproven serostatus, and he's willing to rely on a condom to protect him against that risk, why can't he rely on condoms when he's with a poz man? At least as far as risk reduction is concerned, I frankly don't see what N gains from refusing guys who tell him they're HIV-positive. And as I said before, N might actually be putting himself at greater risk by hooking up with guys whose serostatus he can't really be sure of.

Mind you, I don't begrudge HIV-negative guys their refusal to date men who are infected. That's a perfectly understandable and legitimate choice. I do think, though, that men who make that choice need to face reality. The reality is that lots of guys who are infected don't know it. There are even a few who know it but aren't honest about it. That means you can't reliably weed out the positive guys just by asking a question. Anyone who thinks he can is simply deceiving himself.

So if you're a negative guy who's hooking up, at least admit to yourself that the guy who tells you he's negative may not be. However emotionally comforting it may be to limit yourself to men who claim to be negative, the fact of the matter is that you may be getting it on with guys who have untreated HIV. The way you protect yourself is by using a condom. And those work just as well with poz men as they do with guys whose status is a question mark.

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More on Sex, Dating & HIV for Gay Men

Reader Comments:

Comment by: DcRocket (Washington, DC) Fri., Dec. 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm UTC
Oh pleaaase. I asked guys point blank if they were positive or not. One said he was negative and I saw anti-viral drugs in his bathroom. Another created this drama that he only dates HIV negative people 'just like him'. Years later I saw his profile where he disclosed he was positive since he was 19 years old.

Mr. N. sounds like a big hypocrit, and a narcissist. I would not waste a minute of my time on an azzhole like him.
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Comment by: Jason (Saint Louis, MO) Mon., Sep. 3, 2012 at 12:53 am UTC
Thanks for sharing your story, John. I've enjoyed reading your posts even though they've made me even more shaky about dating. I was diagnosed with HIV a year ago. It was a rough and boozy first few months, but the world certainly did not come to an end, and life goes on. In fact, the only noticeable impact HIV has made on my life has been social. Call me a coward, but I'm not comfortable sharing my status with anyone except my doctor yet. As a result, I've stopped dating completely. Whenever I've considered putting myself out there, stories like yours loop in my head and I discourage myself from trying. As if dating wasn't already tough. I don't know how long this will last; it's only been a year. Maybe in time this will all become less baffling and I'll be able to open up. Even though your posts have been less than promising, I thank you for writing.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Sun., Oct. 14, 2012 at 1:59 am UTC
I guess I should have made one thing clear. This kind of reaction has NOT been the norm when I've disclosed. Most guys are very appreciative that I've been honest, and most take the news with good humor and good grace.

I wrote about N and Alex precisely because their reactions were atypical in my experience. But they do illustrate a certain kind of denial about HIV that I think is all too common among some HIV-negative gay men. That's why I thought they were worth writing about. It wasn't because most guys react the way they did.

So whenever you feel ready to start dating again, don't let fears over disclosure stop you. I've found it's usually best to get it out of the way right up front, which is exactly what I should have done with N. I could have saved myself a very frustrating evening.

Comment by: Sean84 (London) Thu., Aug. 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm UTC
Hi, so here is a negative 20somethings view. I am currently dating a man who just found out he is HIV positive. In fact 2 days before our first date! I have to say it is not easy and there have been times when I have thought should we just be "good friends". I should say I am relationships person and don't do random hook ups. All my life I have always gone for mutual testing with any new boyfriend. For me the idea of not using condoms at around the 6 month mark is a gesture of trust and creates a stronger bond. I also think that unless you are going out and randomly hooking up with people once you know that you are both negative and clear of all STIs the thought of infections rarely enters your mind. In having a serious relationship with someone who is positive it is a daily thought. I agree that there is discrimination within our community but I also think its important to not judge HIV negative men for wanting to stay negative and have a less stressful relationship. If they are just having hookups then yes it's largely psychological that the fear of catching HIV will be lessened by someone who says they are negative. When a condom breaks with anyone it causes fear & unrest. If you know that the other person has HIV it causes a lot more fear and can make it difficult to enjoy sex thinking about infection, death and other not very romantic thoughts. This does not make N a bad guy or prejudice it is just his comfort level.
In my situation if I did not feel I have met the most amazing man who I can see my self spending a very long time with I would probably would not have continued the relationship upon him disclosing his status to me. Lucky for him I love him very much :-) We all have different comfort level & need to respect that. Thanks for reading. Xx
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Comment by: Groaning (San Francisco) Tue., Aug. 14, 2012 at 9:28 pm UTC
"I also think its important to not judge HIV negative men for wanting to stay negative and have a less stressful relationship"

We're not judging you for wanting to stay HIV- dear. We're judging you for being experienced adults whose selective delusion of monogamy can only be described as willful ignorance. We're judging you for being intentionally ignorant of the obvious and well documented observation that undetectables, who are the vast majority of diagnosed poz gay men, are not infectious. We're judging you for using a pretense of self preservation to justify discrimination against us. But no, we're not judging you for caring about your health. Please, leave your "amazing man". He deserves someone who doesn't see him as a risk/benefit calculation against a risk that is barely there. IHTH.
Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Tue., Sep. 4, 2012 at 2:23 am UTC
I am not judging you -- or N -- for your desire to stay negative. That's a very laudable and important goal. I know as well as anyone that HIV is no fun. What I am "judging" is inconsistency and self-delusion. That's what the post is about.

Finally, I certainly respect N, his comfort level, and the choices he makes. That does not mean I'm not going to criticize those things when I don't think they make sense, as is the case here. It's a bit like talking to my politically conservative friends. I respect their views, but I also criticize those views when I believe them to be wrong.

Comment by: negmaninpozrelationship Wed., Aug. 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm UTC
Having found myself now in a relationship with a newly HIV positive partner after four years of a monogamous relationship, firstly I feel incredibly lucky to have remained negative despite our having condomless sex for most of our relationship.

Secondly however after living with my partners diagnosis for 7 months now, the one thing I have realized is that it is almost certainly safer to be in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive than to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't know, or indeed to be having casual sex.

Whilst a serodiscordant relationship has it's own challenges I think I think it is abundantly clear that those who reject people on the basis of an hiv status are making a mistake based on fear and lack of education rather than anything else.
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Comment by: Chaz S (Palm Springs, ca) Mon., Jul. 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm UTC
Fear, Fear and denial. Why do men asked that question in the first 20 minutes of meeting. I'm beginning to think the responce to a Negative guy when he asks that question is; just practice safe sex and you have nothing to worry about. They instead run like a scared rabbit at the start line. 3 out of 5 people i fected with HIV in the US don't taked medication and could care less who they infect or if they infect. You can never take anyone on their word and the responce by any negative guy to an HIV POZ guy who is honest enough and brave enough to tell you their status in the first 20 minutes or the first date should be "we can work through this". Time to grow up Gay men you've been living iwth this for 30 years.
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Comment by: Voorcroix (Putnam, NY) Sun., Jul. 29, 2012 at 3:23 am UTC
It seems both from your story and from your responses to readers that you are coming from an emotional and defensive place. I understand the hurt these situations can cause. Let's just remember every human has feelings and fears, even highly educated people.
As a poz man (nearly 20 years now) I have come across all levels of rejection upon disclosing (from a "sorry" to a gun pointed at my head). Most of the neg men I have met look at it like this... If you were told you had a choice -- on this table is a gun with one standard bullet in the chamber and on this other table there are 5 guns and one of them has a hollow point, exploding bullet in the chamber and you have to choose to play Russian Roulette with either the gun you know has a bullet in it or play Russian Roulette with a random gun from the other table. What do you do? Most people would take the chance on the table with 5 guns and only one bullet, even if it is a potentially more lethal bullet. They would have a greater "comfort level" with that choice.
When someone says something like, "It has been in the past," that says to me, he is weighing the current situation. If it's a question of his "comfort level", assure him that you are willing to address that and see if together, you can ease his concerns.
We never aid our cause by taking offense and running from a situation. Next time, don't be so quick to get up, put on your jacket, and say, "good-night."
Best of luck with future dating experiences.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Aug. 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm UTC
Frankly, I find your analogy rather bizarre. First of all, it assumes a situation in which death is a possible consequence of making an unlucky choice. That simply isn't the case here. Like N, you seem to have bought into the idea that there is somehow a greater risk of contracting HIV from a poz guy on treatment than from a guy whose status one hasn't verified. As you should know, a guy isn't going to contract HIV from having *protected* sex with a poz guy who has an undetectable viral load.

In addition, in your analogy, sex with guys of unverified HIV status is portrayed as five times less risky than sex with a poz guy on ARV therapy (using your ratio of five guns to one). But that's simply inconsistent with medical reality. We know there are many, many guys out there who don't know they're positive. Since they have untreated HIV, sex with them is actually riskier than sex with a guy who's positive but undetectable. Sure, a guy may have a greater "comfort level" with men who claim to be negative, but the whole point of this post is that, as a matter of medical fact, their comfort is illusory.

I was more than willing to address N's concerns, but once I made my disclosure, he became virtually mute. It was clear he didn't feel like talking. In that situation, I don't feel the need to pressure someone into a conversation he's plainly unwilling to have.
Comment by: groaning louder (SF ) Tue., Aug. 14, 2012 at 9:30 pm UTC
Oh, please until poz people can get past making apologies for discrimination and ignorance, we're not going to get anywhere. For a grown man, especially an educated physician, to discriminate like this, is completely unacceptable. He doesn't need our understanding, and he doesn't deserve our sympathy.

Comment by: Petr (San Diego) Mon., Jul. 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm UTC
Your theory about his condom use is somewhat flawed (and I don't say that to be contrary). I'm an HIV positive guy, so I understand the confusion around neg guys that think they are safe because they are having sex with other guys that say they are neg.

HOWEVER, you didn't ask this guy why he wears condoms with the HIV-neg guys he has sex with. You assume it's to avoid contracting HIV, but it might be to lessen his chances of contracting syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia (or herpes or warts for that matter).

My point is that as poz guys we sometimes forget that we don't have the only STD in town. And neg guys may not want to have sex with poz guys for one reason and use condoms for a different reason.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Wed., Jul. 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm UTC
Your comment rests upon a highly unreliable premise -- that N is only having sex with "HIV-neg guys." As I pointed out in my post, there is no way to verify a person's HIV status unless one insists on getting test results from all of one's partners, and even then there's no guarantee the results are up to date.

Accepting your interpretation would also require me to assume something I find extremely unlikely -- that N (a doctor) simply accepts as established fact his partners' claims about their HIV-negative status, yet chooses to use condoms for entirely different reasons. It strains credulity to think that a medical professional, particularly a gay one, would take a statement about HIV status on faith.

Even if my theory about his condom use is flawed, I think it's built on a much sounder factual basis than yours.

Comment by: Jeff Coulter (Washington, DC) Mon., Jul. 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm UTC
Great essay John! I agree with your conclusion. While I support a man's right to date whomever he chooses, I think using serostatus as a criteria involves some denial and/or fear. The only person whose status I can be sure of is me. I'm HIV+ and that is not going to change. I disclose my status because I believe it is important to do so. It also helps me initiate discussions around what safer sex practices we agree upon.
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Comment by: Dj (Las Vegas) Sun., Jul. 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm UTC
Couldnt agree with you more. I had a sexual encounter with an HIV Positive guy who at the time didn't know he was poz. So when I asked him, he of coarse said I'm neg. Luckily I protected myself in a splethora of ways. However, that did definitely open my eyes to the fact that asking someone about their status has no real assurance unless they show you some kind of proof, and like you said there's really not opportune moment for that when you're hooking up. Anyways, great article and definitely an insightful thing to read.
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Comment by: Eddie (Houston, tx ) Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm UTC
Here is a song for you my friend.
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Comment by: Dan (HK) Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 11:33 am UTC
If you really think that his choice is understandable and legitimate, then you shouldn't really find his rejection confusing.

I am a lawyer myself too. While I have every sympathy for you, you should bear in mind the principle of presumption of innocence.

I often compare life partnership with employment. Suppose you are hiring a cashier position in your restaurant, would you rather hire someone who has good credit on paper (and according to your argument, God knows his moral standards) or someone who has been judged guilty of theft although he has all references now to prove that he has completely turned around?

It is sad that you have found a perfect match for yourself, but remember a perfect match isn't a match at all unless you are a perfect match for him as well. And apparently you aren't to him. So move on.
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Comment by: Andy Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm UTC
Did you just compare HIV+ status to theft? If there's any question why so many people are whispering that this site caters to bigots and serophobes, let this fancy work of discrimination serve as a reminder.

Try making that sort of moralistic, sanctimonious comparison to type II diabetes, a disease which requires regular acts of stupidity and isn't the result of one bad partner or mistake. Heck, try making it to any other STD, which could have just as easily been HIV. You'll be laughed at as a jerk. Start comparing pozzies to thieves though, and it's all about "what is a perfect match for him", and the author's need to "move on".

You want to quote legal concepts? Let's try another. By now, more than 1/5 of gay men are poz. The number is probably higher amongst 40 somethings in San Francisco. As a doctor, this man is intellectually capable of realizing that the risks John presents are negligible. He is also intellectually capable of realizing that HIV, especially from someone who is diagnosed early and discloses, is the furthest thing from a moral referendum. It is a testament to character. To turn someone down who admits HIV+ status while presuming "innoncence" from someone else isn't "a presumption of ignorance", it's an act of willful ignorance.

John, you're better off without Dr. Discrimination. One of the ONLY good things that comes from HIV is that it serves to quickly filter some of the more superficial, precious idiots who persist in gay culture. It's not "his choice", it's his loss, and I only wish we knew who he is so his positive patients could take their business elsewhere.
Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Mon., Jul. 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm UTC
What I find really confusing is your reaction to my post, since you seem to have missed the principal point. If N had said he was looking for a "life partnership," then yes, I'd have understood his choice. But that's not the issue I wrote about.

What I wrote about was the fact that N dates casually, and in those circumstances, I seriously doubt he verifies the HIV status of his partners. So he has quite likely had sex with poz men, even if he isn't aware of it. He protects himself in those situations by insisting on condom use. Condoms would also protect him if he had sex with a man who honestly admitted he was poz. It is that fundamental disconnect that I was trying to understand and explore.

As for N being a "perfect match" for me, please remember that I'm describing our very first date. It was really my first opportunity to get to know him. Calling him a "perfect match" at such an early stage is extremely premature.
Comment by: Douglas (Miami Beach) Wed., Jul. 25, 2012 at 11:03 am UTC
So poz guys are comparable to convicted thieves? How offensive.

Comment by: kennedy (Kisumu,Kenya) Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 10:34 am UTC
Am sorry for what you went through. You might term this as comfort zone, to me this is discrimination of the highest order. Gay living with HIV as facing stigma, not only from unfriendly society but also from the gay community itself. This is why majority of gay men don't disclose their serostatus for fear of isolation upon HIV positive results. No gay ,one who is aware of his status would love to have unprotected sex. Negative gay men should respect HIV positive gay men
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Comment by: Rick (USA) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 5:14 pm UTC
Every negative person should read this article. Unfortunatly, The Body is read mostly by poz or poz friendly men and women.
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Comment by: John-Manuel Andriote (Norwich, CT) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm UTC
Nice to have your voice back here, FogCity! I liked that you got up and walked out when N said that being positive--or rather, being honest about being positive--has been for him a deal-breaker. And a doctor at that. I think you hit the nail on the head: He's comfortable, like so many gay men who follow the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' approach to HIV status disclosure, with men he doesn't know. But when confronted with honest, factual information from someone who knows he is poz and is proactive about caring for himself, he can't deal with it. I think you're right that you made him confront his questionable decisionmaking and, probably, the risks he's taken with others.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 1:19 am UTC
Hey JM. I don't actually think N has taken risks with others. Which makes his reaction all the more mystifying. If he trusts condoms to protect him when he's having sex with a guy whose status he hasn't verified, why wouldn't he trust them to work with a guy who's poz? I think it's just a form of denial. He knows on some level the "negative" guys he hooks up with *might* be poz, so he uses condoms. He just doesn't want to admit consciously all that his precautions imply.
Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 1:19 am UTC
Hey JM. I don't actually think N has taken risks with others. Which makes his reaction all the more mystifying. If he trusts condoms to protect him when he's having sex with a guy whose status he hasn't verified, why wouldn't he trust them to work with a guy who's poz? I think it's just a form of denial. He knows on some level the "negative" guys he hooks up with *might* be poz, so he uses condoms. He just doesn't want to admit consciously all that his precautions imply.

Comment by: Seer Clearly (San Jose, CA) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm UTC
I know that N's behavior seems inexplicable, especially considering that he's a doctor. However, clearly N's behavior doesn't come from a rational analysis, much like most of our behavior: it comes from an emotional reaction. In fact, I've found in myself that even my most rational analyses often are simply justifications for an emotional position that I have. How's that for shattering the myth of rationality?

What N is afraid of is suffering and death. It doesn't really matter if he's more likely to experience that having sex with poz guys who don't know they're poz. What matters to N is that knowing you're poz brings up these feelings of fear and he has no way to handle them other than running away. Essentially, all that "perfection" you projected onto N is a facade covering his essential lack of self-awareness. This is one reason why I have always found poz guys to be more interesting and attractive than negative ones: many have a great deal of self-awareness on board that comes from facing death (or the fear of it, actually) and coming to peace with it. That's not to say that there aren't negative men out there who are self-aware. They just have precious little incentive to face their demons and own them, unless they're on a deep and committed spiritual path.

However, there's little you can do to help N our. But you can help yourself. Why are you so emotionally involved with N's emotional process? Why did you select someone who was operating from reactive mode with respect to HIV infection? As you wrote, there is no need to be reactive from a medical perspective, so it would stand to reason that you should be looking for guys who show some indication of self-awareness or intentional living.

Yes, it's one more obstacle to getting that friend or relationship. But in the end, what else can you do?
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Comment by: fluff (NYC) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm UTC
As a poz guy, I agree with your confusion as to the difference between having protected sex with an admitted poz guy or protected sex with random guys one may not truly know the status of. When I tell a guy I'm poz, and he refuses to have sex (which is his right) I wonder what he would do if I said I didn't know my status or hadn't been tested in a while. Would he still refuse to participate in sex? I think it's easier for a negative guy to lie to himself and say he's not putting himself at risk as long as the other guy doesn't say he's poz. In my experience, I've found that other poz guys are in fact SAFER in their sexual habits. I believe everyone is free to make their own choices, and I try not to take rejection based on this argument personally; however, it does seem like a double standard. Let's face it, poz guys still carry a stigma even within the gay community.
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Comment by: singlenomore (Tampa, FL) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm UTC
It seems to me when someone says, "It has been [a dealbreaker] in the past," the most logical surmise is "It may or may not be a deal breaker now." At first I misread it and thought you said he then got up and left, but now I see that YOU got up and left. At least give it a chance!
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm UTC
Hmmm. I think it's equally logical to surmise that someone in N's situation has had plenty of time and opportunity to reflect on his attitude toward dating HIV+ men. His refusal to answer my question in the present tense sounded more like an evasion to me than anything else. A simple "yes" would have done just fine.

Comment by: Mike (Washington, DC) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm UTC
Where are these poz/hiv+ men? Is it me, 53, 20 lbs overweight and yet I hold it well, but I'm poz too! I simply don't know anymore. I have read this, a man who does not have hiv, so, the man with hiv, is disappointed! Why? The doctor sent the wrong signals? He is lying perhaps? What is it? HELLO!!!! There are plenty of single available guys who could travel and be willing to move too! I've done the poz personals and that is sorely disappointing. Again, perhaps, being white, on a limited income, able to travel, willing to find out if a man and I could click being together, so somehow I'm the problem. Not this doctor who says he is not poz and you are! WTF? Sucks to be you, huh?

This is about the writer not getting his needs met that night. Oh, yeah, you are honest. Unhuh! How about, BEFORE you proceed to his place or him to yours? You are playing a game and he decided he did not want to play.

You might want to call his morals into question, but what are yours? Like most men, (yeah, I'm a man), between your legs. Good thing the head on your shoulders clicked in. Why doesn't it click in sooner? Stop being depressed over this and the other incident and since you aren't finding the choice negative man to mate with, confess from the beginning or simply stop.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm UTC
I'm sorry if my post struck a sore nerve with you. You sound really angry. If your comment is in any way indicative of your attitude, you may find yourself disappointed by the dating scene because you make a lot of unjustified assumptions about other people. Perhaps it's time to rethink that.

Comment by: SteveP (Sacramento) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm UTC
I would much rather have sex with an HIV+ man that is on meds and undetectable than an HIV+ man who does not know his status and who is full of active virus. Even with a condom. And yes, assuming that a person is negative just because he says so is beyond not being logical, it's being stupid. And let us not forget the host of other nasties you can get from unprotected OR protected sex. I think a guy that is up front with his HIV status will be honest about other risks as well. And probably not as likely to have something else because, hopefully, he is being proactive in being safer in general.
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Comment by: Rodger (Canada) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm UTC
Based on your description of N and your engagement with him, it sounds like all the points you make here are things that could have been a part of your conversation. How he's responded to poz guys in the past doesn't necessarily mean things wouldn't have gone differently with you. To use two common expressions, it could have been "a teachable moment" with "a happy ending."

Don't get me wrong; I wasn't there so it's easy for me to say. Plus I don't disclose in every circumstance and I absolutely know that takes guts.

I'm just wondering if things might possibly have turned out differently. I'm sorry you had an experience that was unfair, frustrating and likely in some ways painful.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm UTC
I don't think it could have been a teachable moment. First of all, N's reaction made it pretty clear that he wasn't interested in discussing matters further. Besides, when it comes to HIV, what am I going to teach a gay man with an MD who's spent his entire adult life in the Bay Area? I'm clearly not the first poz guy he's ever encountered, and I don't flatter myself to think that I will suddenly be able to bring him enlightenment on this issue.

And frankly, it was late, and I was tired. I'd planned on a date. I wasn't particularly interested in a psychotherapy session.

Comment by: Louis (New York) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm UTC
A long time ago, I had sex with someone who did not tell me their status even after I told mine
and then much later the person told me of a probability of being hiv infected and we went to get tested, mine was negative the person's positive.
It took away quite a deal of my sexual naivete and freedom which I am sure is (still) true for millions of people. Hiv has taken away a sense of freedom in sex that lies very deeply. And it is extremely unfortunate for everybody involved that such is the reality.
You assume a few things about N that I can understand you do however, it would be far more interesting if you could have a real discussion about this with him and then share some answers even though that could prove to be difficult.
I completely understand your feelings of loss and rejection and perhaps isolation. It is difficult for all, including people like me who have struggled to stay negative especially in a country where real safe sex education has been approached with hysteria rather than the reassuring facts.
Fear sells well in the USA. In conclusion; I believe you write about a subject that is quite interesting, not talked about often and poorly understood by many.
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Comment by: John James (Philadelphia) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm UTC
Your story is a common one. What I would like to hear are some solutions for poz guys. The most common one is to lie and that is unfair and ultimately self defeating.
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Comment by: melinda (vero beach,fl) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm UTC
I'm not a man,but nice read,and yes EVERYONE has got to protect themselves,because people lie,esp. horny people.
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Comment by: A (moreno valley) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm UTC
I do not have sex with random people. if i am going to they will get tested before hand. It hurts to really like someone who is pos. and can not be with I only become real close friends with pos. people.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm UTC
You can certainly be with someone who is poz. You are *choosing* not to. That's very different.

Comment by: Andy Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm UTC
"That's a perfectly understandable and legitimate choice"

(sighs). No, it's not. That this sentiment is being validated on an HIV site makes me angry. I know this website is more dedicated than the seronegative than others, but we should be careful before we affirm discriminatory behavior. I think we really have to ask ourselves what they're choosing when we concede that it's "legitimate". We really have to ask why they're choosing it. Usually, they'll maintain it is a "personal option for risk reduction". That sounds fair, but are they reducing their risk? Well, for that to happen, the average guy who knows he is poz would have to be more infectious than the aggregate of gay men who think they're negative, roughly 10% of whom are positive, unmedicated, and more often likely to be recently infected, meaning higher viral loads. So are they actually reducing their risk by removing us from the pool? I really don't think so.

Any time we ignore reality to announce we're avoiding a certain person because of his membership in a group, our avoidance stops being about "safety" and starts being discrimination. It doesn't matter if it's because we're afraid the man who went out and got himself tested is going to infect us than the guy who avoided the test, or if we're concerned the guy who is black is going to rob us, its all the same stupid, smallminded bigotry.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm UTC
Please don't be angry. My point is simply this. I know a number of coupled, HIV-negative gay men who have negotiated safety within their relationships. They want to be able to have condom-free sex with their life partners, and obviously, for an HIV-negative man, that is only truly safe with an HIV-negative partner. In that context, I think the choice is entirely legitimate.

Of course, as my post should make obvious, I don't think that taking a guy at his word when it comes to HIV status is a rational risk reduction strategy in the context of a hookup or other casual sex. But that's an entirely different issue.
Comment by: Andy Sat., Jul. 21, 2012 at 1:44 am UTC
But it is rational, as a gay man, to exclude the possibility of cheating within a "closed" relationship? That is effectively what one has to do to rationalize that sort of choice.

And is there even a documented instance of a stable undetectable transmitting the virus? To the best of my knowledge, there is not. How can there be "legitimacy" unless there is?

Comment by: Paul (Canada) Wed., Jul. 18, 2012 at 2:34 pm UTC
You make a well reasoned point, however, fear isn't reason based, is it? It is his comfort level to choose -- logical or emotional. You get to choose yours, why question his?
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm UTC
I don't question his right to make the choice. I question the thinking -- or lack thereof -- behind it. He isn't protecting himself by doing what he does. But if it makes him feel better, he's entitled to do it.
Comment by: fluff (NYC) Thu., Jul. 19, 2012 at 8:20 pm UTC
You hit the nail on the head: it's fear. I think the author of this article is simply trying to help dispel this fear by making a reasonable point about sexual practices. When HIV first arrived in the 80s, there were many fears (reasonable or unreasonable) that needed to be addressed so that we as a community could fight this disease. Why not question why some choose to let fear rule their lives?

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Outlier: My Unusual Journey With HIV



My name's John. I'm 49 years old. I'm a lawyer by profession. I now live in beautiful San Francisco, California, after spending a long time on the east coast. I was diagnosed in 2004, so I've been positive for something like five years.

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