Promiscuous Gay Nerd: Is It Time to Abandon Serosorting?

Published: May 16, 2013

When I moved to San Francisco for graduate school in the mid-2000s, I was a young, bright-eyed twink fresh to the big city from a quaint college town back East. At the time, I was an aspirational “100% condom user” (key word: aspirational). There weren’t yet really any other options for guys like me who liked to have a lot of sex but wanted to stay HIV negative. We were told, ad nauseam, to rubber up or expect to test positive. All condoms, all the time.

Back East where I grew up, there was a certain expectation that guys you met would at least feign a desire to use condoms (a community norm, if you will). While most of the time I did use condoms as a wee whore-child, it was okay to slip up from time to time as long as you felt really, really bad about it afterwards: “Oh gosh, we really should have used a condom. Sorry!”

It quickly became clear that this norm was a thing of the past in the Gay Bay. I would invite guys over, we’d start making out, and suddenly they were trying to stick it in me without a condom and without a question.  Naive and blonde as I was, I was routinely surprised by their presumptiveness: Where were they getting this notion? Did I just look like a slut who liked it raw? Well…maybe. But I surely didn’t identify as a “barebacker” and my profiles all explicitly said “safer sex only.” So what gives?

I soon figured out that I needn’t look any further than my own online profile to find the culprit. Without thinking much about it, I casually noted in most of my profiles that I was “neg 4 neg.” At the time, the idea of having sex with an HIV-positive person seemed anathema. My education in HIV prevention was underwhelming—talking openly about getting fucked was barely an option, much less getting fucked by a poz guy. My casual use of neg4neg wasn’t informed by science—just plain old stigma, fear, and misinformation.

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