When do You Talk about HIV and Safer Sex?
First date, second date, third date…. You’ve got your more than your eye on some guy and there’s reason to believe the two of you have some sexual chemistry. You feel yourself heading for the bedroom. The messages you’ve heard about safer sex class pop into your head. You know the responsible thing is to talk before having sex, but you’re reluctant to risk ruining the mood. What’s a guy to do?
Some people chitchat about sex all the time, but still have trouble speaking their mind in a face-to-face encounter where it’s actually going to happen. Being able to communicate with a partner is important if both of you are going to get what you want. And sometimes it’s more than just a good idea: if you’re an HIV positive man and you have sex with someone before disclosing your status, you’re violating the law in many U.S. states. Whether it seems fair or not, you’re risking time in court.
Everyone is responsible for his or her own health, of course. Only someone who is naïve or stupid would turn responsibility for their own well being over to someone they are still getting to know. But making informed choices requires…information. And that requires talking.
HIV positive guys face a burden when it comes to this part of dating. They’ve been told to disclose, but most poz guys have run into negative men who react badly when the subject is brought up. So while positive men have a legal (and many would add, moral) responsibility to talk about HIV and safer sex, negative men have a responsibility to not be jerks.
You may be starting to see why it’s best to have this conversation long before you hit the sheets. Waiting until you’re making out and getting aroused raises the stakes for everyone involved. In fact, some men living with HIV prefer to have the conversation as quickly as possible after meeting someone, on the theory that if the other guy reacts badly, it won’t hurt so much. “It’s the virus he rejected, not me” goes the thinking. Other men prefer to wait until they’ve gotten to know someone first; their reasoning goes along the lines of “I’m more than my HIV status, and I want someone to get to know me first before I tell them.” Each perspective has merit. It’s a matter of what feels right for you. Whatever you choose, you can still talk about your status and how you handle safer sex before actually getting naked.
And for the negative guy? First, don’t assume that you can tell by looking if someone is positive or not. And don’t assume that if someone hasn’t brought up his HIV status, that means he must be negative. Be prepared to ask questions, to engage in conversation and to listen. If you’ve decided that being sexual with someone who is positive is not for you, that’s completely your choice and well within your rights. “I find I just can’t relax and enjoy sex if I’m worried about HIV” is a way of taking responsibility for your choice without making the other person feel like damaged goods. Let the other guy talk if he wants to, even if it makes you a bit uncomfortable. Try being empathic as well as assertive. No one likes being turned down.
One other thing, Negative Guy. If someone says, “I’m negative, too,” what does that mean to you? Has he been tested recently? Does he always practice safer sex? Is it wishful thinking? Or is he someone who can’t be trusted to tell the truth if put on the spot?
We’re not all going to be comfortable with the same choices or risks, and we’re going to make decisions based on a number of individual factors. But it’s dumb to take risks without thinking things though. Protecting your health is much more important than wishful thinking.
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