Q: I have to say, this Craiglist ad really makes me angry: "I'm HIV-negative, clean, disease- and drug-free. Looking for the same." Do you think ads like this are discriminatory against poz guys or just ill-advised? (In case you're wondering, I am HIV-positive.)
A: I actually think that candid, up-front ads help smooth the way for more satisfying sexual (and emotional) relationships. Just as you may be looking for a top or a bottom, a trans man, or someone with a sadistic fetish, the Internet and various dating apps now allow you to self-select beforehand, before you're face to face -- or face to whatever. In other words, if you're going to take a pass on someone, it's better to do so in the virtual world than after you've met in real life.
I am, however, unhappy about some of the language in this ad. For starters, there's the use of the word "clean" as shorthand for "HIV-negative." That carries a strong implication that being positive is "dirty," which only adds to the stigma associated with the virus. If that's specifically why you're angry, then you've got my vote.
Then you've got the claim about being "disease- and drug-free." Just because someone says so is no guarantee that it's true. More about that in a moment.
Still, as I often write, language matters. What you say about HIV and other STDs (and how you say it) takes this question squarely into the sex etiquette court. In search of better language, I looked around on Craigslist myself and saw some ads that I think will do the trick (so to speak), without any of the nastiness or judgment that often marks these kinds of postings. Here are two samples:
- "I prefer HIV-negative but I am poz-friendly -- please know and disclose your status -- I play SAFE only!"
- "HIV-neg (tested 9/8/11), drug/STD-free. I am uninterested in those who would like to have unprotected anal sex. Maintaining a negative HIV status is important to me."
The test date in the second ad is a reminder to keep your guard up: A negative status shouldn't be understood as anything other than a snapshot in time, since it still takes up to three months for HIV antibodies to form. So being "disease-free" is meaningful only in the moment you're being tested. You could become infected at any time after that, even though you're armed with a negative test result.
A last point for HIV-negative men comes from Frank Spinelli, a gay men's physician in New York City: "Comparing couples who are in serodiscordant relationships, that is, where one is poz and the other isn't, we statistically see less HIV conversion. That's because these couples know the deal. Most new cases of HIV occur when men have unprotected sex because they both thought they were negative. I think it's a red flag if someone said they were tested 'this past year.' Sexually active gay men should be tested more frequently."
Of course, what's good for the goose is good for the gander; that's to say I'd give similar advice to HIV-positive men who prefer to have sex with other poz guys. Be candid and nonjudgmental, and use common sense. If you're poz and "seeking same," here's a recent ad from Craigslist that I consider a good model for sexual etiquette: "Being poz is new to me, so I am out to build a positive lifestyle, have some (responsibly safe) fun, and possibly build an LTR with a younger poz guy." Or this one: "Detectable poz bottom seeks detectable poz top." Although I hope this poster is not suggesting the old "Why wear a raincoat when you're already wet?"
(According to Spinelli, "The practice of serosorting, where poz guys engage in unprotected sex with one another, does not protect them from other STDs like syphilis, which can affect liver enzymes and T cells. I'm also seeing more and more gay men contracting hepatitis C through unprotected anal sex as well as inheriting resistant strains from sexual intercourse with poz men who do not have an undetectable viral load.")
Bottom line: Poz guys need to make the same kind of informed decisions about safer sex as HIV-negative ones. So pull out your raincoats, fellows!
Talk about it in the comments section: What ways have you found to talk with dates and tricks about your and their HIV status?