I’m negative.”

Safe only.

Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? They seem to suggest that your potential playdate is HIV-free, don’t they? After all, he has already tested for HIV and is in the clear or he doesn’t engage in any risky sexual behavior so it should be safe. What about PrEP? Andy shares with us his encounter on popular gay dating apps such as Grindr and Jack’d:

Him:                “Neg on PrEP here.

Andy:               “Neg, but I play safe.

Him:                “Cool.

Andy:               “Are you looking to bareback?

Him:                “Either is fine with me.

Negative and on PrEP, even safer, no? Sorry, mate. You’re wrong; not because being HIV negative and strictly adhering to a PrEP regime is unsafe from a sexual health risk perspective (it isn’t unsafe, for the avoidance of doubt), but simply because there is no foolproof way for you to ascertain the truthfulness of any of these statements. After all, do you know for sure that he got tested for HIV? When did he get tested? Were the results actually negative? When did he start on PrEP? Is he taking PrEP daily as prescribed?

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there is hardly any reason to believe the words of a complete stranger you’ve just met online or at a bar for the first time. You may be tempted to believe they are true because he has that to-die-for perfect body, a gorgeous smile that could light up a room or he is sweet as honey over text messages and makes you feel so loved or simply because you are not thinking with the right head. “But take a step back and ask yourself, are any of those good reasons to believe the words of a stranger without deeper enquiry?”, Andy shares.

Fortunately, you have the power to reduce your risk of contracting HIV through the use of condoms and your (not his) PrEP regimen. It is your choice to make and your health to protect.

So, you agree to meet this man you met online or at the bar for sex and as we all know, typically one of the following familiar scenarios happens:

  1. Both of you discuss and agree to use a condom and it stays on during sex.
  2. Both of you discuss and agree to use a condom and midway through sex, he removes it with your consent and sex becomes unprotected.
  3. Both of you discuss and agree to use a condom and midway through sex, he removes it without your consent and sex becomes unprotected.
  4. Condom usage is not discussed and sex is protected.
  5. Condom usage is not discussed and sex is unprotected.

Obviously, scenarios 2, 3 and 5 are causes of concern. In scenarios 2 and 5, a common reason – or excuse, as some might say – for unprotected sex is that he told you he is “negative” and/or “on PrEP”. As mentioned above, have you cleared all doubts about the truthfulness of these assurances from your partner?

“In scenario 2, doesn’t the fact that these assurances were made midway through sex raise any red flags in your mind? Why did he not mention it at the outset? And in scenario 5, what stopped your from discussing condom usage before sex?” Andy highlights.

Andy has had two experiences with scenario 3 and recounted how his Grindr date secretly removed the condom during sex which led Andy to rush to the hospital emergency department for PEP. Andy was not on a PrEP regime and could not ascertain if his partner was indeed HIV negative. “Obviously, I did not want to take my chances with HIV.”

During one of Andy’s mandatory medical check-up, scheduled as part of his PEP regime, he learnt from the attending nurse in that country (he was based overseas at that time) that unprotected sex in that country is prevalent even though PrEP was not readily available then thus contributing to an increasing number of HIV infections in that country. In that country, as the nurse explained, PrEP is offered only to patients whom they categorise as “highrisk” based on their sexual behavior.

Today, Andy maintains the use of condoms and cautions his peers: “Even if he is on PrEP, so what? PrEP does not prevent other STIs anyway.”

Sex is a fun albeit sticky business, but ultimately, you should take responsibility for your own health by educating yourself about the potential risks and consequences whenever engaging in sexual intimacy with someone else.  Action for AIDS (AfA), a non-profit organization has amassed a wealth of information on HIV and how it affects lives. AfA is well-placed to offer advice to anyone who has questions about sexual health issues, including PrEP and PEP. The organization also provides support to people who are living with HIV and has helped affected peers to have a renewed outlook on life.

If you are unsure of your HIV status you can get tested at AfA’s Pink Carpet Service (PCS). PCS also prides itself as being ready to give a listening ear should you need speak about your sexual health and relationship issues.

Pink Carpet Service

When:

every Tuesday and Wednesday from 6.30pm to 8.15pm;

every Saturdays from 1.30pm to 3.15pm.

Where:

31 Kelantan Lane (Nearest MRT, Lavender on the East West Line; Rochor on the Downtown Line)

And for the young men under 24 years old

Pink Carpet Youth Drop-In Programme

When:

every Tuesday and Wednesday from 6.30pm to 8.15pm @ ATS

every Saturdays from 1.30pm to 3.15pm @ 9 Kelantan Lane 5th floor