Since this column is intended to address HIV/AIDS issues, and most of us have had the ‘safe-sex’ rules ingrained in us from various resources, it might be more useful to approach this topic from a slightly different angle. Instead of going over how to avoid HIV for the umpteenth time, lets review on a couple of the more common behaviors or assumptions that can contribute to the “surprise” HIV diagnosis.

These are all examples I have heard from men who are newly diagnosed, so hopefully others can learn from these mistakes:

#1: Go to a bath house

To put it bluntly, a bathhouse is the perfect storm of drunken clubbers, meth heads, sex addicts, closet cases, an assortment of out-of-towners ‘on the down-low’ and the occasional stray ‘good boy’ looking to get laid… all coming together to create a veritable Petri dish of nastiness. There is a very good reason you might feel a little nasty and dirty walking home in yesterday’s club clothes at 5:00 AM from a place like this -- it’s because you have been a nasty, naughty little slut, and that tingle you are starting to notice in your throat (or on your dick or in your ass) is probably the beginning of a happy new colony of disease, delighted in your decision to look for quick, easy sex.

If you do insist on going, just assume the person you are having sex with is HIV-positive. If you expect men participating in these venues to announce or otherwise make you aware of any health related issues they might be experiencing, then you would also be advised to make sure you have a good health insurance policy, a great doctor and you might as well bump up your life insurance policy while you’re at it. You can and certainly should ask about a person’s HIV status *every time* before engaging in sex, but if you are participating in anonymous sex, don’t expect to get an honest answer every time. The reason it’s called ‘anonymous’ is because you will probably never see the person again.

#2: Assume only bottoms will contract HIV

You can get HIV from topping and from blowing, so don’t say you were never warned. Guys hate it when I tell them they can get HIV from giving a blow job, but I am here to tell you it happens, and not just to me, but others that went through the same experience. Personally, when I was initially diagnosed with HIV, my Primary Infection Clinic doctor had a million questions for me, but the obvious one is how I contracted the disease. When I told him about “the worst sore throat of my life” after an oral sex episode a few months earlier, he rolled his eyes and let me know he’d heard this story before. The fact of the matter is, you CAN contract HIV through oral sex. Although considered “low risk”, oral sex is not “no risk”… and that was my very big mistake. This is nearly the same story I have heard from other newly infected men as well, and the conversation almost always includes something like, “I thought it was almost impossible to get HIV from oral sex/topping” -- which can be answered by, “It is almost impossible”. However, if you give enough blowjobs, top enough bottoms without a condom, or happen to run into a person with a very high viral load (usually due to lack of treatment, failed treatment or someone going through an initial primary infection period) the statistics start working against you.

#3: Assume Every HIV-positive man will disclose their HIV status

As shocking as it may sound, many men will lie outright, be overwhelmed with the initial shame and not know how to talk about it, or just refuse to be tested, so they cannot be labeled ‘poz’. Also, don’t forget that all-important three-month window, where a person can test negative, but be infectious and just not have developed the antibodies that the HIV test is looking for. “But they are legally required to tell me if they are HIV-positive!” you say? Of course they are, and it is also illegal for people to drive drunk…. so try to keep your head in the real world and not the idyllic world of consequence-free sex as you would like it to be.

One last tip: When you do ask someone his status, do it in a way that will probably give you a better chance at an honest answer. “Are you clean?” is not the right way. We are not living in the Old Testament and HIV-positive people don’t like being called “unclean” any more than you like to be called a “sodomite”. You are much more likely to get an honest answer if you use just a little positive affirmation when asking the question. Example: “You are really hot and I want to mess around with you anyway, but I always like to know if the person I am playing with is HIV-positive.” See how that works? And believe it or not, there are a lot of safe and fun things you can still do with the person, but that’s a topic for another column. :-)

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