Posted by HIM on Tuesday January 12th, 2010
Picture this: You've just finished an intense workout at the gym and all pumped up. You head to the steam room and encounter the hot guy who was eyeing you off as you were undressing in the locker room - his muscles ripped, tight and glistening wet from all the steam. He gives you a flirty smile while subtly grabbing his crotch. There's nothing you can do as there are numerous other guys in the room. You leave the steam room only to come across him once again in the sauna, this time just the two of you. He asks you to meet him in the shower while stroking his cock. Now feeling all hot and worked up you're ready to be plastered against the shower wall, hot water running all over the both of you as you fuck each other senseless. But as you make your way to the shower, you realize that you're about to have sex without condoms.
You know you're negative and you tell him that you only have sex with other negative men (technically known as sero-sorting), as you discreetly enter his shower space. He assures you that he's all clear –even though it has been 6 months since his last check-up. You think to yourself 'Awesome! I'm all safe for hot, raw, condomless action!’ However, deep down you know better, but before you have time to rationalize your thoughts he's already all over you and possibly, any unknown infections he may have.
Think that this couldn’t happen to you? This scenario is more common than you think. Studies have found that newly positive gay men believe that they were infected through unprotected anal sex with a sexual partner whom they presumed to be negative. Recent research on HIV transmission has made the assertion that unknown HIV infections, as in those who are Poz and don’t know, may account for 55% of new infections.
Despite having been around since the AIDS epidemic began, the idea and practice of serosorting is still arousing great debate and plenty of research today. Serosorting involves choosing to have sex and/or form a relationship only with a partner who shares the same HIV status as you. (The literature often refers to e practice as a form of negotiated safety, like strategic positioning, which to me sounds more like a hostage situation and a marketing plan). As recently as the beginning of this month, a series of articles published in Eurosurveillance Weekly stated how over a fifth of gay men in France selected a partner for a bit of barebacking action based on their partner's reported HIV status. A similar trend was also observed across the continent in Canada and all the way on the other side of the world in Australia. While going bareback without your rubber friend is always a risk, those who experience condom fatigue for one reason or another are practicing serosorting as a way of being 'safe'. In theory this seems to be an ideal way to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections as HIV-Negative men would only have sex with each other and the same goes for HIV-Positive men. However, flawed decision-making and assumptions that gay men make about their own status, or that of others, make serosorting more risky than most people think.
Studies have shown that the whole idea around serosorting is fraught with assumptions. I can't say that I'm surprised at all. When people serosort it is often more about seroguessing the other person's HIV status rather than actually talking about it properly. But can you really blame them? When scouting a potential fuck partner in a club or bar, you really do not have the ideal setting to pull them aside and ask them the details of their HIV status. Plus it could be a mood killer as you're practically interrogating a stranger on one of their most personal details just to get your hands on their junk. While this type of approach has been reported to be more welcomed in internet dating, I can't say I've ever seen a comfortable HIV related talk in a club or bar setting on a typical night out. Anyone beg to differ? We could also wrongly sero-guess ourselves. We might be HIV-Positive and don't know it or perhaps we're an active sexual beast who has never been tested.
The serosorting problem is especially intensified with HIV-Positive guys. Declaring yourself as HIV-Positive looking for another HIV-Positive guy to fuck and/or love is not exactly the easiest thing to blurt out in a social setting or one on one for that matter – there's an inherent social stigma attached to it no matter how open minded we as a society has become. This results in HIV-Positive guys dropping hints and cues, which a lot of the time can be missed or misinterpreted especially when alcohol, drugs or 'heat of the moment' scenario is involved.
Finally, geographic location can play a major factor in the proper practice of serosorting. Down in San Francisco where the positive rate is higher, declaring yourself as HIV-Positive may be the norm and expected. In Vancouver however, where the rate is lower, it can be more of a challenge. For guys in Vancouver, if you fuck with condoms all the time, then there is no need to sero-sort. If you don’t and choose your partners based on HIV status, the chances of getting infected are lower and so the idea and practice of serosorting is perhaps another version of safer-sex.
For all the hurdles associated with serosorting, there are arguably good points about the practice. And no I am not talking about the worry free hot bareback action every time, anytime. For every negative there is a positive reaction and studies have shown that serosorting can reinforce a sense of community and connectedness amongst those living with HIV. Serosorting is a simple concept in theory but can be highly problematic in practice. It requires full honesty and long-term commitment, two attributes that does not exactly come to mind when we talk about gay sex and relationships. We’ve got a bit of work to do in the relationship department. This probably sound like I'm cynical or stereotyping but it's more of an observation that I have observed in my two years being out and socializing in the gay culture. Now I am well aware that being a 22 year old guy, I can only speaking on behalf of myself, someone that did not see the worst of the epidemic. I would love to hear feedback from older guys out there. In closing, I want to say that if you are HIV negative and think you can avoid HIV by only fucking guys who are also Neg, you might want to rethink your strategy, girlfriend. Serosorting requires that you trust the guy you’re fucking and you both test regularly, otherwise, you don’t really know what you think you know.
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