It’s Sunday afternoon and it’s raining. I’m bored and horny. However, I’ve got £20 left over from the night before and this will be enough to buy me entry into a sauna where there should be enough sexy men to relieve more than my boredom.
I’m there within half an hour and it’s rammed with sexy guys. The trouble is, none seem too interested in me. My self-esteem starts to take a bit of a hammering and I start to wonder what’s putting people off. Can people tell I’ve got HIV just by looking at me? Am I casting off the wrong kind of positive vibe? Or is it that I’m just a bit of a minger? Well, whatever the reason, I persevere and am eventually rewarded. I finally catch somebody’s eye. There’s no doubting that he’s up for it, and rather than fumbling around in the dark he leads me into one of the private cabins and we lock the door.
He very quickly makes it clear what he wants – and it certainly doesn’t involve the use of a condom. There’s been no discussion of HIV – in all my years of going to saunas there never has been. What’s the need anyway? Isn’t the use of condoms which are so liberally supplied at saunas meant to make such discussions unnecessary?
Is he HIV-positive? There’s no tell-tale indicators – no evidence of lipodystrophy or a trendy biohazard tattoo to suggest that he’s got HIV. Nor do I recognise him as somebody who has ‘needs discussion’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’ next to the safer sex option on his gaydar profile. I want to assume he’s HIV-positive so I can comfort myself that, should I give way in the heat of the moment, I wouldn’t potentially infect somebody with HIV. But then I remember, you’re not supposed to assume anything.
There’s starting to be a lot of heat in this moment. Yet I’m aware that people have been sent to prison after not telling their sexual partners they have HIV – I don’t want to risk my liberty for the sake of an afternoon in a sauna.
The thought of catching something nasty also flashes through my head. An HIV-positive friend recently caught syphilis when he went to a ‘bareback’ sex party with other HIV-positive men. And in the space of a year I’d picked up chlamydia and gonorrhoea. I’m also aware of reports that some people had been reinfected with strains of drug-resistant HIV after having bareback sex and that there’d been an outbreak of hepatitis C spread by barebacking.
But, on the other hand, I tell myself, he must know the risks. He wants to have unprotected sex in a sauna, dammit! How far should I be held responsible for him? I reassure myself he’s probably already HIV-positive. But then, I don’t know this, I’m just guessing.
Another thought enters the mix. The knowledge that I’m taking combination therapy and that I have an undetectable viral load is comforting – well, the viral load in my blood was the last time I went to the clinic two months ago. That must surely make a difference, right? And, on top of that – if you’ll forgive the pun, I’m the top so my risk of getting reinfected or hep C must be reduced – or at least that’s what I tell myself. But, if I’m the top, then my chances of infecting him with HIV are higher if he’s negative. I could reduce the risks by so-called ‘safer-barebacking’ and making sure I don’t ejaculate in him, yet, I’ve heard that even tiny amounts of semen can contain potentially infectious quantities of HIV.
Okay, what do I do? I’m not a saint and I’m as horny as hell. I got HIV from having unprotected sex and I know how good it feels, and that’s not something I’m going to deny.
But this time things seem so different. On the occasions when I’ve had unprotected sex since my diagnosis with HIV I’ve tried to make sure that the other person already had HIV. The internet has made that a lot easier.
I just don’t know how to raise the subject now – we’re already having sex! I go through the possible options in my head.
It could be that he is too; it could be that he isn’t or doesn’t know and that he couldn’t care less; or it could be that he’s negative, does care that I’m positive and seem to be about to have unprotected sex with him, goes crazy and hits me for not telling him earlier!
I don’t want to create a scene – how British. Nine times out of ten you don’t even tell your name to people you meet in a sauna, let alone discuss HIV. Well, perhaps that needs to change, and I may well start changing things now.
The back of my throat is dry when I try to speak – is it nerves or excitement? I croak something inaudible, but it doesn’t matter. In the few moments that have passed he’s lost interest. He puts his towel around himself, taps me on the shoulder, unlocks the door and leaves the cubicle.
I don’t know if I’m relieved or disappointed. And I know that this is unlikely to be the last time I face a situation like this. The problems is, what my mind tells me to do next time and what my dick tells me to do are two completely different things. I’m only human, and I’ll do my best to make sure that my mind wins out.
Help us to
support people living with HIV and make
a donation to NAM
today. Thank you.