The risk for getting an STD/HIV varies from situation to situation. Here are some tips on how to reduce your risk!
Condoms - Condom shmomdom, right? As many times as we have heard it, the fact remains true that condoms are the most effective way to prevent picking up or passing HIV or other STDs when having sex with someone whose status you do not know. It is a good idea to be prepared, even if you don't think a situation will lead to sex. You can order free condoms here! Don't forget to pick up some lube while you're at it too.
Another tip is to avoid using flavored condoms for anal sex. Oftentimes the flavored condom can irritate your butthole, making you think you have something when you may not. Keep the tasty ones for when you want some sexy foreplay.
Get tested - Getting tested is just as important as brushing your teeth. For some, testing is part of the normal routine every three to six months. For others, testing is less frequent. This may be because you have been in a long-term relationship, a partner told you he had something or you just have that feeling. Even though testing can be scary sometimes, knowing your status and that of your partner is important! You can find more information about testing and testing sites near you here.
Poz or Neg? - Some guys try to make sex without a condom safer by finding a partner who has the same HIV status or who looks like they don't have anything. They may do this by asking their partner about his HIV status, guessing from what he looks like or assuming they are negative if he doesn't offer to use condoms.
This is NOT a reliable way to reduce your risk of passing or picking up HIV/STDs. If someone tells you he is HIV-negative, this may not be true. Even if your guy knows he is HIV-positive, you cannot assume he will tell you, especially if it is a one night thing.
Top or bottom? - Some HIV-negative guys think it's safe to do it to a guy without condoms, as long as they are on top. Similarly, many HIV-positive guys think they can bottom without condoms, as long as they are the one getting it.
However, no matter what position you like it at that time, doing it without condoms is risky for picking up and/or passing HIV and STDs.
Undetectable viral load - Some guys may think it's OK to do it without condoms as long as their guy has an undetectable viral load. An undetectable viral load is the result of a blood test done for a poz guy. It means there isn't any detectable virus in his blood, though he still has HIV. It usually means he is taking his meds and seeing his doctor regularly.
Having sex without a condom with a guy who has an undetectable viral load is much safer than sex with a guy whose status you don't know or a guy who hasn't been tested in a while. Even though sex with someone who is undetectable is much safer for you, it is not totally risk-free. Sometimes a person's viral load can go up and down without him knowing. When his viral load goes up, he has a higher chance of passing HIV to you. You can also still get other STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis if you don't use a condom.
Limit the number of partners - This can be a good option to reduce your chance of picking up or passing on anything. You can also try to establish friends-with-benefits or guys you play with regularly. Communication and trust are really important to help you have hard conversations about his health and yours.
Talk about Sex - A lot of the time, it's easier to do it, than talk about it. Maybe you don't feel comfortable asking him to use a condom? He would tell you if he had anything, right? Maybe you think that talking about sexual health, history of STDs or condoms ruins the moment?
The truth is, ending up testing positive for something you don't necessarily want is way more uncomfortable than talking about it.
How do you get the conversation started? Try asking him straight up if he has ever had an STD. Shocking right? But you might be surprised at his honesty.
Sharing your own history or testing experiences may help break the ice too. Not everyone has a clean bill of health and talking about a time you had something may open up conversation.
Talking about sexual activities or fantasies may be another way to lead into more serious conversations about sexual health. Are there things you don't want to do? Places you don't want to be touched? Talk about those too. Set your boundaries and stick to them.
Pulling Out - Some guys think that pulling out before they cum is an effective way of reducing the risk of picking up or passing on HIV. This is better than having him cum inside you, but is NOT a reliable way to stay STD and/or HIV free. Here is why:
Pre-cum is the fluid that comes out of the penis before cumming and can contain small amounts of HIV.
At the finish line - The guy on top may cum before he has a chance to pull out or he may not agree to pull out before he cums.
The bottom line - A guy who bottoms is also able to pass on HIV or STDs to the guy topping him. This can happen through tiny rips in the skin inside your butthole that might expose him to blood. You may not even notice this, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Using lots of lube can help reduce tearing when you bottom. Here is when you want to be slick ;)
PrEP - Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a way to prevent HIV infection by taking a daily pill. PrEP really only works when you take the medication every day. You can choose to take it for a few months or several years, depending on what you want or who you're doing it with. To find out more about PrEP, click here.
nPEP - Post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) is a way to prevent HIV infection after you think you may have been exposed. If you find yourself saying "oh sh*t" the morning after, this may be an option for you. You can also take it to prevent HIV in case of an emergency, like a sexual assault or other situations you didn't want to be in.
It is REALLY important to start nPEP as soon as possible. After 72 hours (3 days), it won't work. nPEP involves taking a combination of HIV medications for 28 days. nPEP is safe and works well, but it is not 100% effective. It also does not protect against or treat other STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. To find out more about nPEP, click here.