This is an actual personal ad I found in the back pages of an alternative Atlanta newspaper. I like to read these kinds of ads periodically because I think they often reflect more than the romantic or wanton desires of the individuals seeking mates. This guy, for instance, mentions the word "disease" three times and "healthy" twice. I think we can safely assume he's obsessed with HIV or sexually transmitted diseases, and plans to rule out anybody who doesn't possess pristine body fluids. What do you suppose are his chances of finding a disease and drug free, not too experienced, healthy, well-endowed bisexual in a country where an estimated one in five people are living with a sexually transmitted disease? This would take more than luck and a clever personal ad; it would take divine intervention.
I'm not knocking personal ads. I think they are often a reasonable, convenient way to meet potential mates or sex partners ... even though responding by phone to these things usually costs two dollars or more per minute. You and your touch-tone phone can do some serious financial damage. Still, if you're not into bars, or your social activities don't give you much opportunity to meet new people, perusing the personals is a real alternative.
For gay men seeking other gay men, personal ads are now full of acronyms and codes that discreetly reveal explicit details about a man's sexual proclivities. For instance, "VA" stands for verbal abuse, "S/M" means sadism/masochism, "TT" implies tit torture. You get the picture. I admire men who unashamedly express their sexual interests right up front. I suppose, too, it's easier to reveal them anonymously in print than to blurt them out to you over lattes at Starbuck's.
I scanned the personals section of a recent issue of Southern Voice, Atlanta's gay and lesbian community newspaper. Of 58 "Man Seeking Man" ads, 30 revealed their HIV status. So, roughly half of these guys felt this piece of information was just as important as whether of not they like movies, gardening and monogamy. Twenty-five of them said they were living with HIV, and of those, eight preferred to meet other positive men only. One of them, in fact, specifically desired responses from HIV-negative men only. Of the men claiming HIV-status, three were looking for the same.
Sharing your HIV status in the context of a personal ad is probably a good thing. It's there. It's in print. The person seeking a date, mate or sex partner is giving the reader an opportunity to make an informed choice. The reader who chooses to reject someone on the basis of HIV status can do so without face-to-face histrionics or a queasy confrontation. In the most sexist of terminology (forgive me), it can separate the men from the boys.
Now just for contrast, I decided to examine the "Man Seeking Woman" ads from another alternative Atlanta newspaper, Creative Loafing. Of 68 ads, not one mentions HIV status. But four of them candidly disclose that they are living with herpes. And that's really cool because in this age of HIV and AIDS most people forget about other sexually transmitted diseases. I commend those guys for their honesty.
Americans look for love and sexual gratification in lots of places. With the advent of personal ads, phone lines and Internet chat rooms, the thing to remember is that some people are better at spinning a good story than they are at telling the truth. When someone purports to be "disease free," a healthy bit of skepticism is in order. By "disease," they may simply mean HIV. And while many more heterosexuals and bisexuals are being tested for HIV these days, most do not consider testing for hepatitis A, B or C, herpes, chlamydia or other STDs. It is possible to carry some of these viruses or infections without symptoms, thus leading to the false conclusion that they are "clean," another word I see frequently in personal ads. In fact, they could be exposing others inadvertently through unprotected sex.
If you answer a personal ad, I suggest chatting by phone a couple of times and then meeting in a neutral, public location. Don't be afraid to ask what "clean" or "disease free" means. If you're planning to place an ad, I do encourage you to disclose your HIV status because, frankly, it's a significant detail.
If you're placing or answering a personal ad for the purpose of sex only, admittedly, conversation may not be a priority. Therefore, I suggest you be clear with yourself about your own boundaries prior to meeting someone for sex; know what you will or will not do before you ever hit the sheets. If you don't set your own boundaries, someone else will set them for you.