HIV Aids

With New Ways to Talk About HIV on Hookup Apps, Positive Men Have More Options Than Ever

They say opposites attract. But for many years, HIV positive and HIV negative was not a popular combination for gay men. Now things are changing, as medications used for both treatment and prevention make it possible for men living with the virus and those without to feel more comfortable being sexually intimate with each other. In 2016, Grindr, my gay hookup app of choice, gave users the option to indicate their HIV status, beyond “positive” or “negative,” with the options “positive, undetectable,” and “negative, on PrEP.” These options have revolutionized my sex life. As a man who became HIV positive in 1990, I now have a much wider choice of sexual partners than I once did.

Before PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), in my experience at least, many-to-most HIV-negative men shunned HIV-positive men. Now, it is increasingly common for opposite-status men to have sex with each other, whether it be for dating, relationships, or just plain ole hookups. And the ability of these men to “come out” to each other about their respective HIV statuses is much easier, now that Grindr lets them disclose all the relevant details right in their profiles. Sure, some guys might use these profile options to serosort, or find men with the same HIV status as them. But for other men, it’s about access to men who are of the opposite status. In my experience, a lot of HIV-negative men believe that HIV-positive men make better sex partners—in particular, that we are “hotter bottoms.” That may sound really offensive, but I completely agree. And for me, the issue does not start out being about HIV status per se, but is more about age—I like younger guys, and a lot of younger guys like older guys, or “daddies.”

Now, younger guys and older guys have always been attracted to each other sexually—going back at least to Alexander the Great and his boyfriend Hephaestion, or to the Roman poet Catullus and his boyfriend Juventius (whose name literally means “youth”). But in the age of hookup apps (that is, from about 2009), my own experience suggests that younger men who were HIV negative tended to avoid older men. Part of that fear may have been the fear of HIV. By 2009, many scientists and medical experts already either knew or suspected that HIV-positive men who were on meds and undetectable could not transmit HIV to a sexual partner. But the average horny Joe in the street did not know that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U). And PrEP was still years in the future.

The early days of using Grindr could be just as traumatizing as the real-time cruising and dating scene of the 1990s. Back then, guys would walk out on me in the middle of a dinner date after I told them I was HIV positive. Once, a guy I dated for about six months, who knew I was HIV positive the whole time, dumped me after his friends stoked his fears about dating an HIV-positive man. He was even afraid he’d get infected from biting my nipple too hard. A number of years later, he called me to apologize, and to tell me that he had subsequently become a member of ACT UP and had been in a relationship with someone with AIDS, who died shortly after he called me. That was very touching; but the damage to my heart and soul was already done.

I was not an early adopter of Grindr, but it’s true that my husband and I switched from flip phones to smart phones the first time some friends showed us Grindr on their iPhones at a swanky hotel bar on 55th Street. The first app we downloaded when we got our new phones was Grindr. Back then, I experienced a lot of rejection on Grindr. Once I had established that a man on Grindr was interested in having sex with me, I would message him: “I’m poz on meds undetectable. That OK with you?” They would say yes, no, or block me. C’est la vie. The rejection was not a huge deal—and I was just playing around, not looking for a husband, a boyfriend, or even a date. Just sex.

But still, rejection is rejection. Then in 2016, things changed, not just with Grindr, but with Scruff, too, which I first joined in 2011, back when I was still also using gay hookup websites like Manhunt and Adam4Adam. Scruff takes a somewhat different approach. They don’t have an HIV status section of the profile like Grindr does. They let you identify “poz” as a community with which you identify or that you are “into,” rather than as an HIV status. They let you identify “treatment as prevention” and “PrEP” as safety practices. I suspect Scruff thinks they are doing me a favor by not identifying my HIV status. In fact, in 2018, Grindr got in trouble with the community for disclosing that it shared users’ HIV status with third-party companies, and stopped doing so the minute the outcry erupted. But I like the way Grindr does it, because Grindr lets me tell guys right in my profile that I’m poz on meds and undetectable. Not only is that very convenient; it also, I believe, helps increase awareness, and helps normalize HIV-positive status. Same for the “negative, on PrEP” option.

Not to mention the hot sex! As I noted above, a lot of HIV-negative guys think that HIV-positive guys are better bottoms. But it goes farther than that. A lot of men, especially a lot of younger men, think that older daddies make better bottoms, and that older poz daddies are the best of all. Again, it may sound offensive, but I completely agree. I know I’m a better bottom! And I do, in fact, think my superiority as a bottom is on some level connected with my HIV status—As we used to say in the good old bad old days, “I didn’t get HIV from a toilet seat!” That is, it could be argued that a certain level of sexual adventurousness, a certain willingness to go the extra mile when taking dick—a certain “thirst,” as the kids today say—is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Now the damage is done, and if I’m writing this, and you are reading this, then it stands to reason that we lived to tell—so why not take advantage of our assets?

You may argue with my completely politically incorrect account of the virtues of Grindr’s HIV status option—But they work for me, and I have no doubt that they work for a lot of other guys, too, both younger and older, both HIV negative on PrEP and HIV positive undetectable on meds. As a wise man once said, “Why can’t we all just get along?” On Grindr, a lot of us do get along, quite well, regardless—or, often enough, because of—our differences in HIV status.

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