Words by Liam Murphy | @liamwaterloo


I’m assuming some of you are wondering why I’m not just writing ‘CONDOMS’ in massive bold type and leaving it there. First of all, there’s much more to having safer sex than condoms. Also, I’m going to mention condoms in a bit, so calm the f**k down.

Making your sex life safer is far more complex than just ‘being a bit wiser baby, put it on, put it on’, it also requires communication, regular testing, education and a big hot sticky load of respect.

1 - TESTING

We should all be getting tested for HIV at least once a year. Maybe more depending on the type(s) of sex you have. The riskier the sex you’re having means you’ll need to get tested more often (but if your fetish is frottaging in a two-inch thick furry onesie, you’re probably fine). 

It really has never been easier to get tested for HIV. There’s rapid finger prick testing, home testing, home self-testing, testing in clinics, testing in bars, testing in saunas and there’s even still the traditional ‘take your blood at the GP’ kind of testing for those who still enjoy an agonising week of waiting. I’ve probably missed out some other testing methods. The point is, there are a lot of ways to test.

I won’t say ‘no excuses’ because I hate the frowny holier-than-thou judgement of the ‘sex-police’, but HIV testing is easily accessible.

2 - TALK

Discussing your HIV status, talking about when you last tested and being upfront about the type of sex you want to have, can help you make an informed decision about how safe you can and want to be. To clarify, this is not a fool proof strategy for staying HIV-negative, some people just assume they know what their status is. Just use the conversation to guide your safer sex.

This also doesn’t mean stigmatising someone living with HIV. By all means discuss your status when arranging a hook-up (for example) but questions like “are you clean?” are unhelpful, inaccurate and insulting. Which leads me to…

3 - EDUCATION

Take a bit of time to learn about HIV. Do you assume that avoiding anyone who’s positive will keep you negative? If so, you’re wrong. An HIV-positive person who is on medication can become undetectable – this means the amount of the virus is so low that it’s near impossible to pass it on. It’s actually ‘safer’ shagging an undetectable HIV-positive guy than it is a man who just assumes their negative status. Also, by knowing this, you’re being less of an unnecessary dick to someone living with HIV (plus, by writing off all HIV-positive guys, you’re missing out on some pretty great sex).

4 - SEX

Know what you’re getting into, so to speak. How risky is fucking? How risky is getting fucked? How risky is rimming? How risky are blow jobs? Knowing the answer to some of these questions could help you figure out how to have your fun more safely (and I wish the questions were on my GCSE Biology exam, it would have been far more interesting). You might not be that into anal, but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the sex you’re having is 100% risk free, particularly when it comes to STIs.

Please don’t let this put you off sex altogether, because it’s brilliant.

5 - PEP

PEP (full name, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) is emergency medication you can take if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV. You can get it in sexual health clinics and in A&E departments of some hospitals – which might be needed if your clinic is closed at the weekend. The main thing to remember about PEP is that you must take it within 72 hours of exposure and the sooner you take it, the more likely it is to work. PEP isn’t a magic pill, it isn’t always effective and it’s not for regular use.

There’s not much that’s funny to say about this one. Although after One Direction signed a deal with Pepsi, one tabloid ran the headline ‘PEP IDOLS’, which I thought was hilarious.

6 - PrEP

PrEP (full name, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is medication you can take which can stop you getting HIV. It’s currently not available on the NHS. Which is fucking crazy when you think about it.

You can buy it online and from certain sexual health clinics (it costs around £400 per month) which is grand if you have oodles of cash, but if you’re like me, after I’ve paid my rent I barely have enough money to shop in Waitrose, pay for my Uber home or afford cocktails (I may need to reprioritise).

My point is, PrEP can stop HIV transmission and it’s currently only available for people who can afford it. We can change that.

Visit www.prepaccess.org.uk and join the call to get PrEP on the NHS sooner.

Some will yell and holla that PrEP doesn’t stop other STIs. That’s true, it’s not a licence to bareback, however, at the risk of repeating myself, IT CAN STOP YOU GETTING HIV. Bigger picture, people.

7- CONDOMS

Let’s finish with the one you’re all expecting to see. Condoms are great. Wearing a condom, it can help protect against HIV and a myriad of other STIs. There’s a cornucopia of different types of condoms out there, tailor-made to fit your nether’s needs. Wear a condom. Put on a condom. ARE YOU WEARING A CONDOM YET?

The thing is condoms can fail. They can break, slip off, you can damage the condoms by using the wrong type of lube… in fact the effectiveness of condom use as a way of preventing HIV is around 86%. That’s why having a back-up plan or combining different safer sex strategies can keep you safer (which is why I said at the beginning that safer sex doesn’t stop at condoms –congratulations if you’ve endured the article this far).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and put on a condom. 


Useful links

For more information about sex, STIs and HIV visit, www.gmfa.org.uk/sex.

For information about PEP, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/pep.

For information about PrEP, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/prep.

For information about condoms and lube visit, www.gmfa.org.uk/condoms-and-lube.

To find your nearest GUM clinic, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/clinics.


HIV-positive men read out mean messages



Digital reader