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HOW TO NOT BE A DICK ABOUT HIV

In our reluctance to use that three letter word, are we isolating guys living with HIV, and fuelling new HIV infections by kidding ourselves? 

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We get it; talking about HIV when you’re hot and hard or having an intense chat session isn’t exactly a turn on. But there comes a time when it needs to be addressed. Staying silent and not even discussing HIV (especially if you’re not protecting yourself with condoms) can feed into ignorance and misconceptions about risk. 

Maybe that 18yo on the other end of your cock knows very little about HIV risk because he went to a school that had poor sex education, and by staying silent you’ve missed an opportunity to pass on knowledge that could help him. Worse, beating around the bush and using nasty terms like “clean” so you can avoid saying that three-letter word increases stigma toward guys who have HIV, and ultimately discourages other guys from getting tested for fear of finding out that they’re not “clean” any more.

Let’s bring HIV back into the conversation. There's been a huge amount of progress in HIV treatment in the last 30 years, so people living with HIV can now lead long and healthy lives. Talking about it more will reduce stigma and help prevent more of us from getting the virus.

#1: THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING

There's a big issue with some of the language used in HIV status announcements that you might not have picked up on - and that's the use of words like "clean". Think about what that word means - and now think about what the opposite of "clean" is (hint: it's "dirty").

Using a word like "clean" to show that you don't have HIV actually devalues people who are living with the virus. There's a whole lot of stigma around HIV that the gay community has spent 30 years trying to fight, and every time someone uses that word in their profile, it just proves how much work there  is still to do.

Using the word "clean" on your profile, or saying that you'll only hook up with other negative guys, is on a par to writing "No Asians or Indians". It's unnecessary and rude, damaging to the people who fall into those categories, and it's also ignorant.

#2: GET EDUCATED

Firstly, we all need to know that HIV isn't a result of promiscuity. There are men who fuck 50 guys a month who are HIV negative, and there are people who picked up the virus on the same day they lost their virginity. Gay and bi guys have a higher chance of contracting the HIV, but it's not because we're all sluts - it's actually simple biology and epidemiology.

Next, some facts:

  • Fucking a guy who has HIV doesn't mean you're going to get HIV. Lots of guys on HIV treatment are "undetectable". What that means is that the treatment is working and the virus has stopped replicating, so it's much harder for it to be passed on during sex.
  • 1 in 5 HIV-positive gay/bi guys in NZ don't know they have HIV - which means they're likely to have a high viral load and a really good chance of passing on HIV through unprotected sex.

What both of those facts add up to is that it's statistically safer to have sex with someone who knows they're positive and is undetectable than it is to fuck someone who doesn't know their status (which includes guys who assume they're negative but haven't been testing regularly enough, and so actually have no idea).

On top of this, a person is most infectious within the first 2 weeks of getting HIV. The evidence shows that HIV is almost always spread by people who don't know they have it.

#3: USE CONDOMS FOR HIV EQUALITY

In New Zealand, if you have anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV, legally they don't have to tell you their HIV status, as long as you use condoms.

That's because condoms and lube make us all HIV equal - when used every time and correctly, they reduce the risk of HIV transmission to almost 0%.

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#4: GET TESTED

If you're having anal sex and using condoms and lube every time, you should be getting tested for HIV twice a year. The more times you have anal sex without condoms, the more often you should test.

There's a window period with HIV testing, so a negative result today actually only means you were negative 6 to 12 weeks ago. A standard HIV test won't pick up if you caught the virus yesterday or last week, so testing negative doesn't mean you've been given clearance to go out and have bareback sex.

Knowing your status means you can access support, and start taking medications that will improve your health and significantly reduce your risk of passing on HIV.

Some apps now encourage users to list their HIV status on their profile. It's great that people are getting tested, and showing it in your profile normalises HIV testing. But remember that relying on the negative HIV status of your partners to prevent HIV is risky. Mostly, things go wrong when people just assume that they’re still negative when they haven’t been tested recently.

And remember: it doesn't matter who's positive and who's negative if you're taking action to protect yourself.

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