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These Apps Offer Peace of Mind on HIV

These Apps Offer Peace of Mind on HIV

These Apps

How mobile apps can offer some piece of mind when it comes to HIV and hooking up.

For centuries gay men have sought creative ways to make a connection with one another. Technology has often played a crucial role in facilitating those connections. From bars to cars, to bathhouses to phone sex lines, to chat rooms to hookup apps, making a connection has been central to building community, and community is good for our health.

I use a variety of apps to meet guys, and now I have the unique experience of being someone who works for an app while also making use of them for my own personal desires.

I am looking for all kinds of connections when on an app. Sometimes I am looking for a quick hookup, sometimes a date, and other times I'm looking to chat with men in a city I plan to visit. All of these connections have meaning and value, and those connections become all the more important in the context of disease, stigma, and various anti-LGBT policies around the world.

Our ability to be intimate and find pleasure is at the core of our humanity, yet for too long our bodies have been criminalized and our sexuality has been pathologized. Apps are a tool in the fight against homophobia and stigma and allow for support, empowerment, and freedom from isolation.

I have been HIV-positive for 20 years, my entire adult life, so it has always been central to my sexuality. My profiles on apps include my HIV status and the type of sex that interests me. I do that mostly because it just makes things easier and saves me any hassle. But poz men have all sorts of different experiences on hookup apps.

It's a regular occurrence for me to receive a particular message from other poz guys, mostly when I am traveling in the South. Not "Hello.' Not "How are you?" The message simply says, "I'm poz too." It's just a simple phrase declaring they have found someone who has a shared experience. Some guys ask about meds, some want the relief that comes with having sex with other poz guys, and others don't want to talk about it but merely want to be seen -- to have it recognized that they too are people, not disposable or dismissible. And on Hornet, for example, there's a "KYS" ("know your status") info page that describes the HIV statuses, such as "negative, on PrEP" or "positive, undetectable," that appear in profiles, for men who want to know more or want to be able to accurately describe their status in language other guys can use.

In the past, websites and chat rooms allowed HIV-positive men to locate other poz men online. Mobile apps go one step further and allow you to connect with that poz man who might be living right down the hall. It's one thing to know you aren't the only poz person in the world, but it's something entirely different to realize you aren't the only one on the block.

It's these simple connections that demonstrate the potential of gay social-networking apps. It's the ability to connect poz men who continue to experience profound stigma and isolation. Discriminatory and hostile laws exist all around the globe, and they take aim squarely at HIV-positive people, who have the audacity to pursue a fulfilling sexuality.

As gay men, we know that our sexual audacity is legendary. We've continued to have sex in the midst of a 35-year epidemic. We are independent, defiant, and resilient. But we've also become quite skilled at connecting with one another and sharing important information. In the age of hookup apps, we have taken that to a whole new level. On gay apps, you can disclose your HIV status, if you are using PrEP, or if you are undetectable, and some can even regularly remind you to get tested. Scores of gay men have had rich, fruitful, and intense conversations on apps about PrEP, stigma, HIV, and sex.

It's a community of users that make the apps what they are, and it's in that community where we turn to one another for information on PrEP, for shared lived experiences of HIV, or for just some damn good sex. All of that is what makes our community strong and healthy.

Alex Garner is the senior health innovation strategist at Hornet. Image courtesy of Hornet

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