Safety first

6 ways to think about hooking up safely in the time of pandemic

To hook up or not to hook up? That is the question for many a happy homo during the international pandemic.

Back in April, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, was asked what he would say to single people, tired of social isolation and ready to mingle, who wanted to hook up with someone via apps like Grindr or Tinder.

“You know, that’s tough,” Fauci replied, before stressing people should always try to avoid catching COVID by staying six feet apart and wearing masks. However, he acknowledged that some people might decide connecting with others was worth the risk: “It’s what’s called relative risk. If you’re willing to take a risk — and you know, everybody has their own tolerance for risks — you could figure out if you want to meet somebody.”

Depending on where you live, restrictions may be lifting and you might be considering getting yourself back out there more, whether via app or at an open-air bar or queer outdoor gathering spot where everyone is wearing masks. In any case, if you are thinking of dating again, either virtually or in real-life, now could be a good time to reset and refresh your approach to meeting guys.

Below are five steps to help you enjoy yourself as we continue to negotiate the COVID pandemic.

1. Know your HIV status

It’s always wise to own your sexual health, but particularly if you think your sex life is going to pick up again soon. Some clinics have been offering limited services during the pandemic, which has driven increased interest in home-testing options.

During the pandemic, the CDC recommends six feet of social distancing, but did you know they recommend more frequent HIV screening for men who have sex with men? That’s right, federal health officials recommend screenings every three to six months, depending on your level of sexual activity and risk factors, which you should assess with your doctor. 

OraQuick’s in-home HIV test is the simplest way to get accurate, fast results without waiting in line at the clinic or doctor’s office. With a simple oral swab, in as little as 20 minutes, in the privacy of your own home, you obtain your results, along with access to 24/7 support. Knowing your status is empowering, and it helps protects your health and that of your sexual partners.

It’s the way to take control of your own sexual health and to own your sex life.

2. Revamp your dating app profile

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Have you been using the same photos of you at the beach and profile text since you created your profile 20 months ago? Now is the time for a refresh: You might be surprised at the interest you get by a simple photo change – especially if it’s a good, clear face pic. If you’re not great with a camera yourself, ask a buddy for help.

When it comes to wording your ad, tell people what you’re into rather than provide a list of negatives or exclusionary statements that can turn others off or cast yourself in a negative light. Don’t use wording like “clean” or “bug-free” if talking about your sexual health because it’s hurtful to HIV-positive members of our community and fuels stigma and HIV discrimination. If this is news to you, check out U=U. You’ll be glad you did.

Don’t be shy of stating what sort of connection you’re seeking at the moment, whether it’s a BF, BFF, FB, or even a husband. Being honest is the best way to respect other people’s time chatting with you. Don’t leave them on the primrose path – that’s just rude and counter-productive.

If you just want to make virtual connections only, that doesn’t necessarily make you a “time-waster.” Some people are using the home-time offered by the pandemic to concentrate on themselves, network, develop new skills, or look for a new job. That doesn’t mean you can’t chat with guys online: Just be clear that you are not meeting in person until you have both been vaccinated.

There are plenty of others in the same boat who would welcome chatting about the challenges they’re facing or seeking some mutual emotional support. Just be upfront about it by respecting the expectations of others.

3. Socially-distant dating

Still not sure about meeting others in person? Take some advice from those in long-distance relationships. If movie theaters are still closed where you live, how about you and your date separately watch the same movie on a streaming service and use zoom to chat in real-time. Who knows where a passion for the same movies or books could lead?

Want to meet up but your favorite restaurant isn’t offering dine-in? Weather permitting, you could meet outdoors, where it’s known that the chances of virus transmission are lower. Go for a hike together or grab some food from a takeaway and go for a picnic. Don’t forget to think about supporting local LGBTQ businesses. Some venues have become creative with their own outdoor spaces, like The Abbey in West Hollywood converting a side alley into an outdoor eating space.

4. Socially-distant sex

No everyone is thrilled by the idea of less intimate sexual encounters, but when even the City of New York suggests exploring the joys of glory holes, we know we’re living in very different times.

If you’re avoiding one-on-one sexual encounters right now, it’s still possible to explore your sexuality. Some guys have tried Zoom sex parties, one-on-one cam sex, and socially distant J/O parties. Why not show off sexy underwear or toys with that new lust or love interest? It’s an opportunity to find out a little more about what you’re both into, heightening the expectations for the real thing.

If you want more info on the relative risks associated with different sexual practices, check out this Queerty article. And if you are having guys over to your house, showering before arrival is a must. Don’t be shy about suggesting showering together either – it’s sexy and shows that you care.

5. Don’t date if you’re feeling unwell

In the time of COVID, don’t put other people at risk. The virus can impact different people in different ways. It doesn’t always present with a cough and high temperature. This was a point that Dr. Fauci was keen to make back in April: Some people are going to take risks hooking up, but it should only be considered if both parties have no symptoms.

6. Let’s talk about sex, baby

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Don’t be afraid to talk about sex. As gay guys, we are empowered to talk about the things we like doing without shame and embarrassment, that’s one of the many things that make liking guys so awesome.

If it’s looking likely you’ll be moving things from six feet to six inches away, talking about sex beforehand can help you both get the sex you enjoy – and safely. For example, is he on PrEP? Does he know his HIV status? There are still some guys who have never had an HIV test or haven’t had one in years. If he’s reluctant to go to a clinic, talk about in-home testing and point him in the direction of OraQuick as a key part of his sexual health toolkit.

It’s the simplest way to get accurate, fast results without waiting in line at the clinic or doctor’s office – if you can even get one these days. In as little as 20 minutes, in the privacy of your own home, you obtain your results, along with access to 24/7 support.