Checking in with yourself

Whether you’re picking someone up at the bar, chatting with them on an app, or reaching out to someone you’ve known for a long time, every sexual encounter is different. What’s your approach?

There are ways to check in with yourself before you hook up or have sex, like thinking about what you want to do or don’t want to do. Drugs, alcohol, and different environments might cause us to stray from our plan or make decisions that don’t line up with the sex we were expecting. But by checking in with yourself throughout, you might be better prepared to respond to any other questions that come up in the moment, even if your desires or expectations change throughout the night.

We all go through our own story, our own thoughts, and our own worries before, during, and after having sex. Be honest with yourself about where you’re at, at any given moment, with a few of these questions.

What do I want to do?

  • What are you looking to do? Do you want to go suck some cock? Go on a date and find out if there’s chemistry? Go into the back room or the bath house and see what happens?LookingOutforYourself_checkingIn_2dudes
  • Thinking about what you’re looking for when you go out, go cruising, or meet up with a guy doesn’t mean you have to stick to any one plan — it just means you can notice if things aren’t going the way you expected.
  • If things aren’t happening the way you thought they might, you might want to pull away, say “stop” or “slow down,” or suggest to the other guy that you do something different. Or you might think about it, and decide if you feel good about it.
  • You might not be in the state of mind to think through everything when you’re actually having sex, so planning a response or two in advance can help you throughout the night.

Do I know my status?

  • Getting tested and knowing your HIV status will have an impact on the kind of sex you’re having and the strategies you’re using. Look at our testing page to learn more.

What’s his status?

  • Talking about your HIV status can play a role in deciding what strategies to use. Although many guys believe they are negative, it’s difficult to know for sure how recently someone has been tested, or what kind of sex they have been having since then.LookingOutforYourself_checkingIn_status
  • Even if you’re both HIV-negative, remember that a lot of HIV transmission occurs when somebody doesn’t know that they’re HIV-positive. This can happen because of the window period, where tests might not show HIV in the weeks right after transmission, or because of stuff that happens between tests. Sometimes guys assume they must still be HIV negative if they haven’t experienced any symptoms of infection, even though it is definitely possible to get HIV or other STIs and have few or no obvious signs.
  • If you find it hard to talk about your status, there are ways to approach disclosing that can help.
  • If someone tells you he’s HIV-positive, remember that there are some especially respectful and thoughtful ways to react.
  • Guys who are HIV-positive and are taking treatment can maintain undetectable viral loads, which makes the chance of passing HIV extremely unlikely. There is less of a chance of HIV transmission if you have sex with an HIV-positive guy who has an undetectable viral load than, say, having condomless sex with a guy who believes his status to be HIV-negative.

What’s his approach to sexual health? How does it fit with mine? What will make me feel best?

  • Ask what sexual health strategies he’s using and how well he is using them — is he on PrEP? Does he know his viral load? Does he have sex with guys based on HIV status? Is he using condoms?LookingOutforYourself_checkingIn_combineStrats
  • There are lots of ways to combine strategies to make sure everybody feels relaxed and healthy about the sex they’re having. You and another guy might have different preferences, so when you get together, tell him what feels best to you.
  • When talking about what you want to do, be open to his thoughts as much as your own. If you’re both undetectable but he says he’ll be more into it if you use condoms, then you may have to make that a part of your hookup. Or if he says he’s on PrEP, but you and your partner have an agreement to always use condoms with other people, let him know and go from there. That way everyone knows what to expect.
  • If he’s using PrEP or has an undetectable viral load, think about how much you feel comfortable with letting his health strategy be yours. Both of these strategies are highly effective when a guy sticks to his medication routine, but it’s easiest to verify your own approach rather than his.

What did we talk about, and what didn’t we talk about?

  • It can be hard to talk about the sex you want, about HIV, about condoms, PrEP, and viral load, and things you’re going through. We live in a world that has often makes us afraid or ashamed about sex, and it’s not always easy to overcome that.
  • It’s worth asking yourself, how do you feel when you don’t talk about some of these important things? Can you work on asserting yourself better? How can you do that?
  • You might not always know his status or whether he’s undetectable, on PrEP, or likes to use condoms. Sometimes we don’t talk about these things. If that’s the case, what is going to make you feel the most comfortable in the moment and afterwards?

What chances am I willing to take?

  • Everything we do involves a calculation of possibilities or “risk.” Sex is no different.
  • Most guys would rather not get STIs. You might want to do something, or end up doing something, even though you know that STI or HIV transmission could occur. For some guys, the idea of maybe getting an STI, or taking a chance on HIV is really scary. For others, they’re willing to take risks to have a certain kind of sex. And lots of guys are somewhere in between. Thinking about the sex that you want, what are you doing, or willing to do, to reduce your chances of HIV and STIs? How might you respond if you did get an STI or acquire HIV?
  • There are some strategies you can verify for yourself, like using condoms, taking your own treatment or being on PrEP yourself. Others, like another guy’s HIV status, his viral load, or his PrEP routine, are under his control. Even though you may trust each other, think about whether you feel comfortable allowing the strategies that he controls to be the ones that you’re using.

Have I thought about other STIs?

  • PrEP and undetectable viral load work great at preventing HIV, but it doesn’t protect against other STIs. LookingOutforYourself_checkingIn_STIsIf you’re having oral, anal, or frontal sex, condoms can lower the chances of transmission of most of these. How easily an STI is passed can also depend on the type of STI and the sex you’re having. For example. lots of guys know that some STIs are more commonly passed during oral sex, but prefer to give or get head without condoms. What feels good to you?
  • Have you been tested for STIs recently? Do you know if you’re dealing with any at the moment? Is transmission of an STI possible? Sharing that information with the other guy is one way to make sure you’re both on the same page.