How to Do It

Should I Tell My Friend the Man Pursuing Him Is HIV-Positive—and Hiding It?

Two men make out.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

This weekend I went to a party where I watched an acquaintance, “Bob,” (who is new to town) making out with “Ted.” Ted is HIV-positive and has a history of not mentioning his status to men he sleeps with. I know this because I slept with him and found out afterward (I asked about STDs before we hooked up and he said “none,” and we used condoms). I confronted Ted and he said he was on meds and undetectable, but I was still very angry about the lie. Other men have mentioned the same story.

Should I tell Bob about Ted, and if so, what, specifically, should I tell Bob about Ted? That he’s a jerk? That he’s HIV-positive? Or do I just tell Bob to play safe and hope that’s enough?

—Looking

Dear Looking,

Most experts—doctors, public-health advocates—say that conversations about status are crucial preludes to sex. Honesty and intimacy make cozy bedfellows, and such conversations reinforce the importance of visiting your doctor and staying in tune with your body. Theoretically, the status discussion also helps mitigate risk. Theoretically. Here’s the paradox that has emerged in the age of antiretroviral therapy with these conversations about status: They are functionally moot in terms of signaling risk of HIV transmission. If Carol knows she is positive and is comfortable disclosing it in such a context, she is likely being successfully treated with antiretrovirals, and if those have made her undetectable, she cannot spread HIV. If Alice doesn’t know she is positive, she is untreated and her viral load is high, which makes her virus very contagious.

You see what advancements in medicine did there? They made it so that having sex with Carol, who says “yes” to the question, “Are you HIV-positive?,” is safer than with Alice, who answers “no.” And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of the 1.1 million people in the U.S. living with HIV in 2016, 1 in 7 were unaware that they are positive.

(Lots of caveats here: Viral load can fluctuate, creating blips in which once-undetectable people become detectable, though not necessarily transmittable—there are a variety of reasons for this, including drug resistance. To stay undetectable, the person with HIV also has to take their meds consistently. And not everybody has access to those meds—here is another example of systemic racism and disparity making populations like black and Latino men who have sex with men particularly vulnerable.)

Also, as you well know, some people don’t tell the full truth. And that last reason alone is exactly why it’s important for people to take control of their own sexual health, through PrEP and other risk-reduction tools like condoms. If you’re on PrEP, the HIV-status conversation becomes more of a formality; it matters much less what your partner’s status is if you are protected upward of 99 percent against contracting HIV. You can stop worrying about other people’s deals and still rest assured that you are having the safest sex possible. (Conversations should still happen about other STDs and STIs like herpes and HPV, but you’re asking about HIV here.)

All of this is to say that I think it’s way more important to focus on yourself than it is others in these situations. If you are practical in preserving your own sexual health, then Ted’s omissions are a dilemma that resides in the less crucial (but still galling) realm of the principle. For as much as the question of a potential partner’s status has lost some relevance over the years, it’s still not OK to hide it. Ted’s wrong there, and the journalist in me feels that it’s morally sound to correct mistruths as they rear their heads. I don’t think it’s unethical of you to give Bob the heads-up that Ted isn’t providing.

But do me a favor and handle it delicately. Drop the sewing-circle mentality—this situation of Ted’s is far less salacious if you interpret it with a full acknowledgment of what an undetectable viral load means. Your potential gossipy insensitivity sows the seeds of stigma that could very well be factoring in to Ted’s reluctance to discuss his status honestly. Don’t be part of the problem. Don’t be a dick. When dealing with queer men—your people—it’s particularly crucial to use your knowledge for good and not evil.

Dear How to Do It,

My fiancée and I have been together for two years. I’m 45; she’s 43. Neither of us has been married before, and we’ve had well over 100 partners between us. And honestly, I don’t think either one of us thought we could be surprised by sex again or ever take an absolute unfettered joy in sex the way we did when we were young. But as we both enter middle age, we’re having the wildest, most uninhibited, unabashed, full-throttle, heavy-metal boning of our entire lives. She’s up my butt, I’m up her butt, we’re peeing on each other, face-sitting, toys, pile-driving our way through entire days and weekends. It can get weird, and it’s always fun. Even two years in, we screw like teenagers with the sort of wild abandon reserved for Armageddon. 

And yet. My fiancée recently made the decision to stop drinking. And I’m trying to join (with more limited success). But we are a relatively sober couple now. Many of those long dirty weekends were fueled by wine and other substances. And I have to admit, perhaps for both us but perhaps just me, a certain amount of that lack of inhibition was the result of the booze. Do I still want to stick my tongue up her butt? 100 percent! Do I want to stick it up her butt for an hour? Eh … maybe not. Do I really want to get peed on sober? Again, it’s warm and fine, but it’s not the same. Or perhaps I’m too much inside my own head. I honestly can’t tell. We still have fantastic sex. And it can still go on for hours. But at the same time, I feel like something is missing. We had sober sex even when we were drinking and it was always great. But now all the sex is sober, and I worry that we’re going to lose that momentum that occasionally led us to some truly weird but wonderful places. I’ve even occasionally snuck a shot or two of vodka to make sure I was could still fully embrace that sexual frenzy. But I don’t want to drink behind her back just so we can maintain that energy. Simply put, butt-dildo-sex-swing-piss party isn’t quite the same when you have to remember every moment the next day. How do I learn to embrace sober screwing?

—Whiskey Dick

Dear Whiskey Dick,

Just do the stuff that you’ll be OK with remembering the next day. It’s fun to lose yourself in the moment, and substances will help you along that way, but they strike me as less a solution and more a problem if they’re driving you to do things that you wouldn’t normally be inclined to do and, even worse, feel bad or weird about later.

I can’t quite parse out your anxiety—you want it the way that it was, even though that was a byproduct of a lifestyle you’re moving on from. Of course your sex life will adjust and adapt to changes in your overall life. If you’re still having fantastic sex, you’re fine. No one’s keeping score. It’s not like you have installed a small critic in the corner who’s going to start writing negative reviews about your sex and calling you out on inconsistencies now that it’s decidedly less wild. You’re under no obligation to get peed on tomorrow even if you’ve been bathing regularly in piss for the past few years. People change. Go with the flow, even when it becomes a trickle.

It sounds to me, in fact, like you are going with the flow, that your sex life is falling into place with the changes that you and your fiancée have made. You think you want to continue at the rate that you were going, but your bodies say otherwise. Listen to your bodies, because indeed, you’re too much inside your own head.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend is great; our relationship is great; our sex life is great—of course, there’s a but: He SWEATS. During penetrative sex, usually more so when he is on top, this man whom I love dearly always ends up sweating literal buckets. He’s drenched; our bed, sheets, and pillows are drenched; even my hair gets soaked. I get distracted from the feeling and enjoyment of sex because of the sweat raindrops falling on my face, sometimes into my mouth or eyes. I am not easily squicked by bodily fluids of any kind—I’ll happily swallow or take a facial, bring on the period sex, love me some anal—and I don’t expect sex to be sweat-free, but the sheer volume of this is honestly grossing me out. It’s also affecting my sense of spontaneity, because sometimes I want to have sex when I don’t have time to take a full shower and wash my hair and change the sheets afterward! I should also clarify that this happens in our air-conditioned home with the temperature set to 66 degrees and the overhead fan on, which doesn’t stop the sweating but leaves me absolutely frozen and uncomfortable before and afterward. Help! Is there anything we can do?

—Not Chasing Waterfalls

Dear Not Chasing Waterfalls,

No need to chase waterfalls—rock the boat. Change positions. I’m assuming you have considered being on top and letting the sheets sop up his man dew as you remain tastefully damp with your own perspiration while hovering above him, but in case you haven’t: Consider being on top. It’s a little bit more work for you, but at least you won’t risk drowning like a turkey in an urban legend by merely opening your mouth as the sweat storm rages above you. Rear entry would also help mitigate the sweat falling directly onto your face, though I don’t know if allowing a perspiration pool to collect in the small of your back is that much more attractive of an alternative.

It’s a bummer to have to cut down on missionary, I know, but nobody’s perfect and this is the cross you have to bear for landing a sweaty dude. Could be way, way worse. I also suggest that you talk to him about how uncomfortable it is making you—he has options for treatment. Is there any chance that you might be able to fetishize his sweating at all? I for one think such involuntary signs of effort and engagement are extremely erotic, but then again, it’s rare that I encounter a guy who hoses me down without even using his hose.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend and I have been together for more than a year and live together. I’m more experienced in sex and relationships than he is by a significant amount—he’s been sexually active about half the time I have been even while he’s a couple years older than I am. We are seeing a sex therapist together because of some difficulties we’ve had around communication and sex, and while I’ve historically been pretty sex-positive, his sexual/bodily shame and prudishness (his word, not mine) run deep. But we’ve still managed to find ways to be physically connected and enjoy each other consistently, which is the most important thing to both of us.

My problem is that he does not like blow jobs. At all. Aside from getting over my shock that there’s a man who doesn’t like them, I’ve been pretty bummed! I really enjoy giving them. He’s been open to trying, with the understanding between both of us that he will not orgasm that way (which is fine—I’m difficult to get off too), and he has never gotten into it or seemed enthusiastic, and once even lost his boner. He’s a great partner in every way and I’d like to be with him for a while, but not giving blow jobs for years to decades makes me so sad. If I brought it up with our therapist in session, I think my boyfriend would feel attacked or ashamed. How do I get over being bummed? Is it worth bringing up, or will it just add to his shame?

—How Many Licks Does It Take

Dear How Many Licks Does It Take,

It’s definitely worth talking about—all issues that involve your partner are—as long as you keep an open mind and don’t try to change him. You’re not going to trick his dick into enjoying blow jobs. Some dicks are just like that. You could try different techniques or types of sensation—some guys go wild for a tongue on the balls, if not the full thing—but I don’t believe there is much you can do about this otherwise. If you’re anything like me (and honestly, I almost feel sympathy for you if you are), you will not settle for a dick that merely tolerates a BJ. I want a dick that wants to be sucked, that’s dying for that specific relief. That is reciprocation to me. Or maybe it’s just that I need a primed canvas for my art. Whatever. I like a responsive dick.

With that in mind, it seems that you’re going to have to accept your fate (while understanding that all relationships require sacrifice) or look elsewhere and open up your relationship to get your head-giving fix. It’s not ideal, granted. You may not want to have this conversation now if you’re still working out more pressing issues that involve both of you directly, but you’re going to have to have it some time or live a sausage-starved life. I don’t think that’s any way for a true cocksucker to live. If you want to branch out, it might be useful to think of giving head as a hobby. It’s perfectly natural to have interests that simply don’t intersect with those of your partner’s. For some people it’s waterskiing, for others it’s shopping, for you it’s blow jobs. From a purely practical perspective, I think you deserve to give the head you crave, but of course, relationships are much more complicated and rarely operate with such straightforward practicality. Good luck getting on those good licks.

—Rich