"Using Hook-up Apps in 2017" is a series addressing issues of safety, racism, and emotional health. Apicha CHC recognizes that there is a lot that comes with pursuing sexual and romantic relationships using technology. We hope that this series will raise awareness about these issues and offer some tools and resources to prevent or deal with issues that may arise.
Illustration by Paul Tuller
In this blog we are talking about disclosing your status on hook-up apps or to people you meet through hook-up apps. As you can imagine, there is still so much stigma surrounding HIV and other STDs. Disclosing your status has the potential to be a difficult and scary process. It's hard to anticipate people's responses and even harder when you don't know them or have a history with them. We hope this blog will help address some of your concerns and direct you towards some useful resources that address this topic. And, as always, we want you to know you are not alone. We care.
Sharing Your HIV Status
Going through articles addressing this issue, we have seen a common theme: people disclosing their HIV status to people on hook-up apps and receiving hurtful, degrading and hateful messages in response. It's painful to witness so many people being shamed and discriminated against because of their status. Having these conversations over an app with someone who is pretty much a stranger is a really challenging situation to be confronted with.
In our other blog post addressing safety, racism, and emotional health a common theme was that people have gained an unprecedented amount of power hiding behind the level of anonymity offered by apps, as opposed to face to face communication. With horrific themes like specifying "no fatties" or "no Asians," it seems like people feel more comfortable spreading hate and being discriminatory.
Click here to read HIV Plus Magazine's helpful article about dating while HIV-positive & disclosing your status
Looking at the hateful things people have said to those disclosing their positive HIV status, it seems like this same mentality applies. For their World AIDs Day campaign, the Gay Men's Health Charity created this video to #StopHIVstigma; HIV positive men read some of things people have said to them upon disclosing their status on hook-up apps:
On a systematic level, we need to do a lot more work. Because, how someone reacts is out of an HIV-positive person's control. You are not responsible for a person's inability to react with humility and understanding. Unfortunately, our culture does not educate people on how to have these conversations, let alone on how HIV is transmitted. Something we see consistently is that there is tons of ignorance about the disease, how it spreads and how to prevent it. This is not a failure on your part, it's society's failure and it's awful that it results in so many HIV-positive people experiencing a lot of hate, discrimination and dehumanization.
Some Helpful Resources:
- Watch powerful video that talks about Love, Sex, and HIV In the Age of Grindr.
- POZ offers some advice on disclosing your status to different people and in different contexts
- For Women: Read The Well Project's helpful guidelines on the process of disclosing your status: click here for English and click here for Español
NOTE: If you are HIV-negative and using hook-up apps, be really aware of your language when someone discloses their status. They are more vulnerable when telling you their positive status than you are to them when hearing it. It's natural to experience discomfort or uncertainty when you hear something that has been so intensely stigmatized in our culture, and when we've largely been left uneducated. But, that discomfort, uncertainty or lack of education does not give you the right to be cruel or hateful. As we heard in the video, the notion of dirty and clean has become a staple in the language commonly used to talk about HIV. People that are living with HIV are NOT dirty and to refer to their status as a matter of dirty and clean is incredibly disrespectful and offensive. Think twice, better yet, think ten times over what your response is when they disclose their status. If your gut reaction is to say something hurtful, just don't do it. Being cruel to people via the veil of a hook-up app is unacceptable.
Click here to read the Advocate's "10 Things You Should Never Say to an HIV-Positive Person on Grindr"
Talking About STDs
Whether you are in it for casual sex or romantic partners, having conversations about STDs on hook-up apps can be an intimidating and challenging process. Like HIV, open conversations about other sexually transmitted diseases and infections is highly stigmatized. But, in order to practice safe and informed sexual behavior, these conversations are important.
The truth is, it's a lot more common than we think. When it comes to Genital Herpes, the CDC reports that 1 out of every 6 people aged 14-49 in the U.S. has it. The CDC's latest STD Surveillance Report gives us some insight into just how common other STDs is in the United States:
People have a lot of misconstrued and misinformed ideas about STDs. Much of those ideas are rooted in discrimination, lack of education and stigma. But when we educate, we begin to challenge the stigma and the misinformation that is floating around out there and continuing to hurt people.
In the article, "How To Tell Someone You Have Herpes Or Another STD Before You Have Sex," Bustle offers up a scripted version of what disclosing your status might look like:
"Herpes is super common — over 20 percent of people have it, and it's even more prevalent in women, because it's easier to catch it if you have ladyparts. It gets transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, and you can actually get it from many parts of someone else's body, not just their special parts (including mouths, butts, and thighs). So really, you don't technically get it from sex, you get it from touching. You're much more likely to get it from someone who has a herpes sore, but you can also get it in between the times when sores are around. While there isn't a cure, there's medication I can take to protect you from getting it, and using condoms also helps."
Bustle also makes an important point about stigma and disclosing your status: "Knowledge is definitely power in this situation — being able to squash stigma-driven misinformation and cite actual facts is super important during a conversation around disclosure, because you may be that person’s first informed gateway into the topic."
It's can also be incredibly helpful to speak with your doctor or your medical health provider about disclosing your status to a potential partner. They might be able to direct you towards helpful resources or help you think through what, how, and when you are going to talk about it.
Some Helpful Resources
- The STD Project Hotline: 1-855-751-9443
- So They Can Know has some helpful resources on how to have these conversation
Hook-Up & Dating Apps Just for You
Though we all seem to know the standard apps like Tinder and Grindr, there are some options specifically made for people that are navigating the dating app world with STDs. The apps can be a place to get romantically or sexually involved with people, and they can also people a place to seek community and support. Sometimes it's helpful to talk openly with people that might understand where you are coming from when you talk about the challenges of dating while POZ, or share advice about disclosure and other things that you face when you are on hook-up apps or dating.
Through research, we have learned that an app was recently launched for people that are STD and STI positive to connect. The app, called Positive Singles, has broken into the dating and hook-up app scene as one of the few options for STI & STD positive people to meet, connect and find community. There is a dating app, Meeting People with Herpes (MPHW), which is only for people living with herpes to meet and connect. Dating apps & sites like POZ Personals and Hzone App are both directed towards HIV-positive people in the dating game looking for intimacy, or just for support from a community.
click here to learn more about these dating websites and apps
Do You Know Your Status?
If you are reading this article but do not know your status, get tested! At Apicha CHC we provide testing for HIV and other STDs. Click here to find out more about our medical services.
Not in NYC? No worries, visit the CDC's website by clicking here to find out where you can get tested.
Having conversations with your doctor about how to practice safe and protected sex is an important part of your sexual health. Your doctor can provide you with useful resources and knowledge about risks that you may be prone to when having sex. Open conversations and education are some of the most important ways that we can address these issues and have a more supportive and informed dialogues.
Are you HIV-negative and interested in PrEP? PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is the HIV prevention pill. Click here to download our PrEP FAQ and find out if it's right for you.