Can I see if he is HIV-positive?
In most cases, when gay men have sex with someone new they will not know their partner's HIV status.

  • Research suggests that up to one in seven gay men on the London gay scene has HIV [1]
  • Estimates suggest that there are about 45,000 gay/bi men living with HIV in the UK [2]
  • It's estimated 6,500 are undiagnosed [2].
  • There are HIV-positive men of every age and every nationality living in every part of the UK.

Because of advances in treatment, it is becoming rare that someone shows visible signs of HIV so you will not be able to tell that someone has HIV just by looking at them. It's easy to think that only a certain 'type' of gay man is likely to have HIV, however there are men on the extreme sex circuit who are HIV-negative, just as there are HIV-positive young guys dancing to Little Mix at G-A-Y Late.

Will he always tell me if he is HIV-positive?
It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will tell you their HIV status.

  • According to research, about three quarters of gay men expect HIV-positive men to disclose their status before sex [3]. 
  • However, about a third of men living with HIV never disclose their status to casual partners. 
  • Just under half of HIV-positive men sometimes tell their sexual partners that they are positive
  • About one in five always disclose their HIV status [4].

Why don't some HIV-positive men share their status?
HIV is associated with stigma and fear; telling someone you’re positive often leads to rejection.

  • Research shows that more than half of HIV-negative men wouldn’t have sex with a positive man [5] which could explain why many positive men keep quiet about their status. Most gay men have safer sex most of the time and because many HIV-positive men will expect the sex they have to be safe, many won't disclose their status thinking it's irrelevant. 
  • In saunas, sex clubs or when you are using apps like Grindr or Scruff, lengthy conversation isn't expected, which makes it difficult for both positive and negative men to discuss their status, even if they are about to have unprotected sex.

Is he HIV-negative if he doesn’t mention HIV?
Many HIV-negative men tend to think that if someone is willing to have unprotected sex with them, they will also be HIV-negative. Similarly, HIV-positive men may believe that their partner is also positive if they choose to have unprotected sex. This is how HIV is often transmitted.

  • If someone you're going to have sex with doesn't mention HIV, it doesn't necessarily mean that he has the same HIV status as you. Many men don’t even know that they are HIV-positive which could be a reason why they may not reveal their status.
  • It is estimated that one in five HIV-positive men are undiagnosed and unaware of their infection [2].

What if I only have sex with guys who have the same HIV-status as me?
If everyone only had sex with people who had the same HIV status (sero-sorting) then there would be no increase in the number of people living with HIV.
However there are still risks to unprotected sex between HIV-positive men.

  • They can pick up other STIs, including hepatitis C. Some STIs will make it more likely that HIV will be passed on during sex. 
  • It’s very difficult to sero-sort if you are HIV-negative because you can never be 100% certain that a person is indeed negative. Even if they are, there is still the risk of catching other STIs.
  • Guys are more likely to fuck without condoms if they think someone has the same HIV status as them. However, research has shown that around 40% of HIV-negative men who say they 'know' their partner's HIV status are in fact guessing [7].

Some HIV-positive men use online dating sites, such as Bareback RT, to find other positive men for condomless sex, because they feel more able to disclose online (although many positive men still won't choose to give out that information) [6].

Can I be sure that he is HIV-negative?
The only way to be certain of your HIV status is to have an HIV test. It's not sensible to have unprotected sex with someone you've just met on the basis that they say they're HIV-negative. If they're willing to take that risk with you, they're probably willing to take that risk with other people too, and it's possible that they're HIV-positive but don't know it.

It's estimated that more than 80% of new HIV infections are from sex with someone who was unaware that they were HIV-positive.




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[1] University College London (UCL), Health Protection Agency (HPA). Gay men's sexual health survey 2009 in 36 gay venues.

[2]HIV in the UK – Situation Report 2015. Public Health England

[3] Weatherburn P, Hickson F, Reid D, Jessup K, Hammond G. Multiple chances: findings from the United Kingdom Gay Men's Sex Survey 2006. Sigma Research, 2008.

[4] Hickson F, Weatherburn P, Reid D, Jessup K, Hammond G. Testing targets: findings from the United Kingdom Gay Men's Sex Survey 2007. Sigma Research, 2009.

[5] Hickson F, Bourne A, Weatherburn P, Reid D, Jessup K, Hammond G. Tactical dangers: findings from the United Kingdom Gay Men's Sex Survey 2008. Sigma Research, 2010.

[6] Velter A, Bouyssou-Michel A, Arnaud A, Semaille C. Do men who have sex with men use serosorting with casual partners in France? Results of a nationwide survey (ANRS-EN17-Presse Gay 2004). Eurosurveillance, 2009;14(47):pii=19416.

[7] Zablotska Manos I, Prestage G, Rawstorne P, Imrie J, Grunlich A, Kaldor J, Kippax, S. Practice of serosorting: will it minimize HIV transmission risk? 8th international AIDS Impact conference, Marseille, July 2007; abstract 282