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Derek brings his perspectives as a San Francisco-based registered nurse specializing in HIV and an outspoken past Pr EP user with HIV-positive and HIV-negative sex partners.
In this Q&A, Derek and Zachary offer their takes on what “undetectable” means, and their advice for how to talk about it with hook-ups, dates, and other important people in your life, whatever your HIV status. The first meaning is very clinical: Doctors aren’t able to find a detectable amount of virus when they screen you at regular check-ups. ” Asking the viral load question triggers a series of follow-up questions that help gauge where he’s at and how he takes care of himself.
For an update on the science, read “ “Undetectable” is a medical term—but its meaning goes beyond lab reports and doctor’s offices.
It refers to suppressed viral load, which is both a key goal of treatment to protect the health of people living with HIV and an exciting new tool for reducing risk of HIV transmission to negative sex partners. Watch our animated video for an easy-to-follow explanation of undetectable viral load and its importance for HIV health and HIV prevention.) So how do we talk about it?
This applies, obviously, to someone who has already been diagnosed as HIV positive, and who has controlled replication of the virus. When I ask guys if they’re undetectable, it’s one question in a series. Today, so much of this is done electronically, on Grindr and Scruff and Jackd and all these applications and online connections, that communication can actually be easier than being face-to-face.
What it means in a social context is that this person, in theory, is the least “infectious” they can be, biologically. Derek: For the most part, they appreciate that I’m bringing it up.
So in a “chat” scenario, if you’re talking on a mobile device, like Derek mentioned, I think the immediate go-to is to disclose, or to ask the person you’re interested in sleeping with, “What’s your status? ” Even if it doesn’t lead to something, or even if the person ends up rejecting you, you’re putting the burden of being cool in their court. The first couple of times, it’s probably not going to go well—you’re going to clam up, or you’ll get nervous.People’s personal practices around this scenario differ from what they will say in public simply because they don’t want to be held liable for a rare occurrence that ends up hurting someone.So I think the safest thing we can say is that being undetectable massively reduces any chance of transmission.I think that’s a new thing, and it’s fantastic, because community knowledge will be the turning point in this epidemic, on the behavioral side. My sense is that sex with an undetectable guy is completely, 100% safe when you use a condom.And people have kind of yelled at me about that, but I go back to clinical studies.
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And what does it mean to different people in different contexts?