Horrible hookups and pozphobic assholes are part of the journey for people living with HIV who are looking to hook up. But remember: For every bad night, there's a better one. For every rejection, there are sincere, sexy people out there who are eager to love, date, and fuck you. These are the sex-positive, sexually informed people you want to find.
It's important to give great sex the attention it deserves, but there's just as much value in identifying what makes a bad sex encounter. Once you identify it, you can make sure it doesn't happen again. Let's recount the disasters. Buckle in.
1. The Mobile Minefield.
The only place I still encounter hate and ignorance is on smartphone apps. It's easier to ignore now, but those messages every so often on Grindr -- that reply (U have HIV? Nah man not into that) -- take their toll.
Rejection is hard. If you're newly diagnosed, take heart. You will come to love your identity and your status, and the messages from those who fear it will get overshadowed by better messages and better informed people.
I won't pretend that those messages don't sting, but here's the flip side: Apps can connect you to HIV-positive people all over the world who offer support and love. Thanks to the "poz" filters on Grindr and Scruff, along with the ability to search for users' specific locations, you're never disconnected from us. I used the apps to find others when I was new. Today, they are where newcomers find me.
2. The Universal Freak-Out.
"Before we go any further, I'm HIV-positive and undetectable," I said.
I had already started sucking his dick and realized I needed to get formalities out of the way.
He pulled away and looked at me. "That's manslaughter," he said. "If you get me sick, you'll fucking kill me."
I started to explain that it's nearly impossible to get HIV from oral sex, particularly if the HIV-positive person is giving head. We would need open cuts or sores, both in my mouth and on his dick, to make it happen (there were none). On top of that, I was undetectable and therefore unable to transmit HIV.
The facts didn't matter; he wasn't listening. He threatened to call the police. This was Savannah, Georgia, where the podunk, ramshackle police force -- men gathered from the marshland and Baptist churches of the region, who fly confederate flags and drink Budweiser -- would certainly arrest me, a "fag with AIDS," if called. I bolted.
I knew enough about HIV criminalization laws to know that I could end up in prison, regardless of verifiable medical facts. It would be my word against his, and I was the one with a demonized illness.
This was a lesson: Get disclosure out of the way immediately and abandon anyone who shows nervousness or ignorance (or simply have anonymous sex -- no discussion, no names, no phone numbers). Every HIV-positive person has experienced a freak-out.
3. The Gossip.
The sex was great. Then they decided my personal business should be shared.
You never have to tell an employer your HIV status. You never have to tell your parents your HIV status. The only people who need to know are you, your doctor, and -- as the law mandates -- those you fuck. These are not moral laws; most states have HIV criminalization laws requiring HIV disclosure prior to sex, and penalties for breaking these laws differ from state to state. You should research the laws of your state to be most informed.
For example, my home state, Georgia, which boasts one of the worst HIV infection rates in the country, decrees nondisclosure before sex a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But New York, the state I now live in, ruled in 2015 that nondisclosure before sex counts as a misdemeanor, not a felony.
4. The Questioner.
We are instructed to inform all sex partners of our HIV status prior to sex. HIV criminalization laws threaten to incarcerate us if we don't. So, as a disclaimer, I write "HIV+ and Undetectable" on all my profiles, from AssPig.com to Reegür (like Grindr, but for guys into fisting). I can't control someone's ability or inclination to read, but it's there.
If you're HIV positive, this story may sound familiar: After learning your status, the cute person you're talking to has many questions. "How did you get HIV?" "Do you know who infected you?" "Can I get it from your saliva?" "How do you know you're undetectable right now?" "Can I get it from kissing?" "When should I go get tested?"
I don't think it's anyone's job to educate strangers, and certainly not when you're trying to get laid. If they have questions, recommend a helpful website, like TheBody, and move on.
5. The Mean Threesome.
Threesomes suck -- someone invariably feels left out. (A good sex party requires a minimum of four people.) My distaste comes from a night many years ago when my ex, who was HIV negative, and I took home a guy we'd been lusting after for a long time.
We started talking at the bar, and after we got a little tipsy, we went home together. But when the clothes came off, I was ignored. He and my ex had a great time as I watched. I assumed my turn would come after, but he quickly started grabbing his things.
"Sorry," he said, "I'm so tired."
My ex and I talked about it. The next day I sent him a message: "Was it my HIV?"
He didn't respond right away. Then: "Sorry, man. I'm still not super comfortable with it."
I never spoke to him again.
Serodiscordant couples face scenarios like this often, particularly if they're non-monogamous. Recognizing the signs of pozphobia and ascertaining comfort with your HIV status before proceeding is something every serodiscordant couple needs to talk about.
6. That Person at a Sex Party.
If you're going to a bareback sex party, you're fine. Bareback culture rejects pozphobia. All are welcome.
But not all sex parties are bareback, or condomless. Many people prefer to use condoms. Any attendee at any sex party -- along with anyone at a bathhouse or sex club -- may be terrified of HIV and those who have it.
If you encounter someone at a sex party (or bathhouse or sex club) who expresses discomfort with your status -- or worse, tells you to leave -- tell them to get lost and move on. If they're the host, leave that party and go to a better one.
7. The Pitier.
Pity is the other side of fear. It might seem benign, but it's not.
Potential bedmates have asked if I'm destitute, homeless, a drug addict, or a victim of sexual assault after I tell them my HIV status, at which point they lose the potential to get in my bed. Pity is a platform from which people try to look down and not-so-subtly say, "Thank god I'm not you."
No person living with HIV is seeking a pity party. We don't want to "talk about it." We want to get laid.
8. The Dishonest Bug-Chaser.
I have no problem with HIV fetishists (also called "bug-chasers") as long as they're honest. A few years ago, a handsome guy started messaging me on Grindr. We chatted for a week and decided to go on a date.
We went to a decent restaurant, got a little tipsy, and went back to his place. In the elevator up to his apartment, he asked, "So, you're not on meds, right?"
"No, I am, don't worry," I said. "I'm undetectable." By now we were on his floor.
"What does that mean?"
"I can't transmit HIV. I'm healthy," I said. "I diligently take my meds."
"Oh," he said. "I was hoping you would."
"Seed me. I like toxic cum."
"I ... can't do that," I said.
"OK," he said. "Well, it's kinda late. Can we can call it a night?"
On the way back to my car, I texted him. He never responded and blocked me on the app. I've told this bizarre story to several people over the years, and they always ask the same question: "Would you have gone on the date if he had been honest in the beginning?"
The answer is: probably. It's one thing to be fetishized and objectified; fetishism and objectification can be really hot, and many kinky people seek exactly that. It's another thing to be tricked and misled.
9. The Drug Encounter You Never Forget.
Many of us fall into drug abuse after testing positive. I did. (In 2017, injection drug users accounted for 9% of all HIV diagnoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
I'll never forget a night in San Francisco when I was high out of my mind and inviting over strangers. One guy came over -- a handsome, rugged man a few years older than me, who asked if he could use my shower first.
"Sure," I said.
He toweled off and immediately stuck a needle in his arm, something I've never done -- I'm terrified of needles. We had sex (for hours? Minutes?), then talked. I learned he was homeless and refused to take meds.
"I have anonymous sex at least once a day," he said. "It's so hot. I'm trying to get every infection all at once."
And the thing is, it was hot to me. And at the same time, I realized he was killing himself. He was forfeiting life in the real world for a place that's hard to escape from. We were similar people divided by a margin that's very easy to cross. I've tiptoed up to that place and peeked in the door. I was saved from it by people who were there for me.
He was a wake-up call, and I started going to meetings shortly after. The fact is, some people never heal from their HIV diagnosis. Many of us are battling decades of shame, self-loathing, and internalized homophobia, and all the bad sex experiences from pozphobic people drive some of us to lonely and dangerous places. That's why we must constantly support and defend each other, and that's why this article exists.
I'll repeat my opening statement: For every bad night, there's a better one. For every rejection, love and pleasure are waiting. There are informed people and people who are willfully ignorant; there are people who see sex as art and people who see sex as sin. If you're new to this, don't despair; you can have a great sex life with great bedmates. You just have to find the right ones.