By Wilson Shaw | @WilsonShawBeats


“Do you bareback?” is a phrase I have heard so many times now I reckon it’s up there with how many times Adele’s album is being played round the world this second.

I’m a HIV-negative guy (as far as I know from my last test!) who really wants to get to the bottom of why I have noticed a pattern in my own sex life: I have encountered several men who tell me they are positive but undetectable and, on that basis, persistently ask for condomless sex, often refusing to have sex at all if I insist on using a condom.

I feel cautious opening up a discussion about this preference for condomless sex amongst HIV-positive men because I am not HIV-positive and do not want to contribute to the stigma people living with HIV face, but I talk about this from a place of compassion and eagerness to understand.

I want to avoid generalising about all men who are HIV positive –  and focus specifically on the behaviour around condomless sex.

When asked  about my status I say ‘as far as I know’ because I understand I might have an STI or HIV and not know it yet. I’ll admit I treat all sexual partners with the same scrutiny – not based on what they look like or how much I want to plough them.

It seems pretty obvious that those who are genuinely undetectable might want condomless sex due to the mounting evidence that when undetectable the virus cannot be transmitted to a sexual partner.

However, in a chill-out environment or on Grindr’s desolately impersonal chat service how can you possibly just take someone’s word for it (when they might not know themselves)? I’ve found more and more guys at these two locations take an all or nothing approach to condoms with sex. I’ve felt huge amounts of peer pressure in a group environment and sometimes have been one of only two or three guys at a group of 30 who use condoms.

The problem I have is that if I compromise for a guy and bareback there is a risk, whereas if he compromises and uses a condom there is almost none. I also don’t like arse to mouth so maybe that’s another reason why I prefer to use them.

So I want to hear from positive guys out there who prefer condomless sex.

Do you feel that condoms are less important once you have been diagnosed because you already have the infection?

Why can some not compromise and use a condom, considering the risks of having sex with a stranger?

If it’s just about how it feels, is it really worth putting yourself or someone else at risk of a variety of infections?

Do we as gay men feel the need to have condomless sex considering how normalised it is for our straight counterparts? Has it always been a rebellion?

I have wondered at times if, for some of the guys I have met, condomless sex may be rooted in a very self-destructive pattern of behaviour; from a source of pain and a lack of care for one’s own wellbeing. This would explain why chemsex and condomless sex do seem to go hand in hand sometimes. In both cases they put the individual in a more vulnerable situation.

Of course, this is very possibly a sanctimonious line of thinking – given that it’s unlikely I’d suggest it as a topic of frank discussion when I’m about to fuck someone. If things I have suggested are putting words into the mouths of men with HIV then I should be corrected – my aim is to increase understanding and awareness by an honest dialogue with men who clearly feel strongly about their preference for sex without a condom.

So tell me what you think.


Would you like to write for FS? Email fsmag@gmfa.org.uk and tell us what you’d like to write about.


7 ways to stop you from becoming HIV-positive

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.


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.


Is he likely to be HIV-positive?

In most cases, when gay men have sex with someone new they will not know their partner’s HIV status.

Estimates suggest that there are about 45,000 gay men living with HIV in the UK. It’s estimated that 6,500 are undiagnosed.

There are HIV-positive men of every age and every nationality living in every part of the UK.

Because of advances in treatment, it is becoming rare that someone shows visible signs of HIV, so you will not be able to tell that someone has HIV just by looking at them. It’s easy to think that only a certain ‘type’ of gay man is likely to have HIV, however there are men on the extreme sex circuit who are HIV-negative, just as there are HIV-positive young guys dancing to Little Mix at G-A-Y Late.

Will he always tell me if he is HIV-positive?

It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will tell you their HIV status. According to research, about three quarters of gay men expect HIV-positive men to disclose their status before sex.

However, about a third of men living with HIV never disclose their status to casual partners.

Just under half of HIV-positive men sometimes tell their sexual partners that they are positive.

About one in five always disclose their HIV status.

Why don’t some HIV-positive men share their status?

HIV is associated with stigma and fear; telling someone you’re positive often leads to rejection. Research shows that more than half of HIV-negative men wouldn’t have sex with a positive man which could explain why many positive men keep quiet about their status. Most gay men have safer sex most of the time and because many HIV-positive men will expect the sex they have to be safe, many won’t disclose their status thinking it’s irrelevant.

Is he HIV-negative if he doesn’t mention HIV?

Many HIV-negative men tend to think that if someone is willing to have unprotected sex with them, they will also be HIV-negative. Similarly, HIV-positive men may believe that their partner is also positive if they choose to have unprotected sex. This is often how HIV is transmitted.

If someone you’re going to have sex with doesn’t mention HIV, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he has the same HIV status as you. Many men don’t even know that they are HIV-positive, which could be a reason why they may not reveal their status.

Can I be sure that he is HIV-negative?

The only way to be certain of your HIV status is to have an HIV test. It’s not sensible to have unprotected sex with someone you’ve just met on the basis that they say they’re HIV-negative. If they’re willing to take that risk with you, they’re probably willing to take that risk with other people too, and it’s possible that they’re HIV-positive but don’t know it.

It’s estimated that more than 80% of new HIV infections are from sex with someone who was unaware that they were HIV-positive.

Useful link

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