When I found out I was HIV-positive, I knew I was going to die. This was in September of 2013. Doctors told me I was going to be fine, that HIV is now a livable illness. A close friend took his pill from his shirt pocket and said, “This is your HIV. This is it.” I didn't listen.
My favorite day of the week is Thursday. In Varsity football, we had easy practices on Thursday so no one got hurt before the game on Friday. I decided Thursday would be a good day to die. When the first Thursday passed, I planned my suicide for the following week. I lived this way from Thursday to Thursday, watching Netflix and skipping classes and going out every night to anonymously hook up.
I would sit in my car, furiously scrolling through Grindr and Scruff, often hooking up with several guys a night — always bareback. I did not tell any of them about my status. Before long, this continued during the day. After class I would wander around town, hooking up with anyone online. I have since learned that this manically-depressed, post-diagnosis “zombie sex” is extremely common and a nightmare for public health workers. I tested positive during my early viral spike, which means I was most contagious during this time.
One night after a hookup, I went for a run at 3 o'clock in the morning. By the time I got back, something had switched. I knew I wasn’t going to die, at least not anytime soon. It was like waking up from a bad dream. Overnight, the guilt from putting so many men at risk made sex terrifying and ugly to me. I felt like a walking plague.
Many guys I’ve talked to experienced this “sex terror” post-diagnosis. It’s a brutal mentality; the feeling that you are now barred from sex and that your life ahead will be lonely, celibate, and marked with regular blood draws and white pill bottles. My sex drive halted and my libido plummeted. I was extremely depressed. This period lasted for months. Anal sex was absolutely not an option.
“What about kink?” My infectious disease specialist asked me one day. “You said you were into that. We actually recommend it as a safer sex option, since many forms of kink don’t necessarily involve anal sex.”
She was a lesbian with short, spiky hair and arm muscles bulging through her sweater. Then she leaned forward and spoke frankly: “Look, you’re not going to spend the rest of your life without sex. Sex is important, and that’s true regardless of HIV.”
I should have hugged her. I had experimented with BDSM before. A local Dominant had tied me up a few times, but at my request we stopped playing after I found out I had HIV.
I took my doctor's suggestion and my Dom and I started having sessions again. We explored sex outside the “penis-in-ass” variety, which in kink are endless: bondage, paddling, role-play, edging, sensory deprivation, electro stimulation, fingering, fisting, anal toys, etc. We tried it all.
It was through kink that I rediscovered a positive outlook on sex. Today, my former Dom is one of my closest friends. We no longer play together but we are still incredibly close. As I explored my fetishes, I found a community that was unafraid of my status.
The first time I had mindblowing anal sex, it finally dawned on me that my sex life was far from over. My hands and feet were tied to the legs of a sawhorse (those things you cut wood on) and my mouth gagged with tape. My companion paddled my ass for an hour before fucking me senseless (with a condom). I was trembling and sweating as he untied me, and I remember thinking how little it mattered if guys turned me down because of my status, because I get to have this with better people.
More than two years have passed since my diagnosis and I am now a happy poz guy and decently-experienced kinkster. It would be a lie to say that the "sex terror" is completely gone, or that the urge to go out and fuck into oblivion isn't there, because of course it is. But I know where these feelings come from, and I work to maintain an adventurous view of sex, not a self-destructive one — a vital distinction in gay culture where the lines between the two are paper thin.
When I find myself at the border, I remember running at 3 a.m. and realizing that you have to choose life, not just assume it. When you're that close to suicide, you realize that life is a job you must commit to and half-hearted attempts don't work. The payoffs of living are the people I have met, the places I have seen, and the world-class sex I've had since.