Hooking up during Covid-19 – what you need to know

While EMH is a sex-positive organisation and we encourage men to enjoy their sex life, we currently recommend abstaining from hookups and casual sex to avoid getting and spreading coronavirus. 

As frustrating as it may be, we have to find other safer ways to achieve sexual pleasure and satisfaction to protect our lives and that of our loved ones. It’s time to stay at home, avoid close contact with people outside our household and to be creative about how we manage our sex lives.

Here are answers to a few questions you may have about sex and hooking-up during the time of coronavirus:

  • Can the coronavirus be passed on through sex?

Yes. The virus is spread through the saliva, mucus and breath of infected people, so kissing and close physical contact is very risky. There are concerns that the virus may be transmitted via faeces so anal play, such as rimming, is not suggested. Scientists have also found the coronavirus in the semen of some infected men, although it’s not clear how transmittable this is.

  • Who is it safe to have sex with?

Remember that people can be infected with the coronavirus and may not show any symptoms but can still pass it on.

Do not be tempted to include other individuals from outside of your home in your sex life during this crisis. It’s strongly recommended that you don’t hook up with strangers or multiple partners at all. At the very least, have as few partners as possible. 

Sex with someone with whom you are sharing a home and are self-isolating with is one of the less risky options. But if you or the other person do not feel well or have been in contact with someone who has Covid-19, definitely don’t take the risk and skip getting intimate.

  • What is the safest form of sex?

The safest kind of sex you can have – as always – is with yourself – i.e. good old masturbation! Take all the time you need to pleasure yourself to let off your sexual steam. This is where the amazing power of the internet comes into play. You can visit free adult sites to get an eyeful of sexual stimulation. You can also use hook-up apps, sites or video services like Zoom to chat with other people to get yourselves off – just not in the same room!

If you do hookup in person, both of you can use a mask to cover your nose and mouth during sex and avoid kissing or any close face to face contact. Perhaps masturbate together, keeping some distance between you while wearing masks. Yeah, it’s kinda kinky!

Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Washing up before and after sex is important and use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

NB: If you are using video calls or sharing pictures to have fun with someone online, take great care that the footage and photos don’t get misused to blackmail or embarrass you. The rule of thumb is to never include your face in any sexually explicit images or video that you appear in.

  • Should I still be taking PrEP?

If you are still hooking up or having casual sex (despite recommendations not to), then do continue to use (or get onto) PrEP to avoid HIV infection. However, if you are not having sex at all and are adhering to lockdown and social distancing rules, then you may choose to stop PrEP for now. It’s safe to stop PrEP as long as you keep taking it for two days after you last had sex.

If you are on PrEP for a very specific reason, such as living with an HIV positive sexual partner or are not sure if your partner is faithful, you may choose to keep taking PrEP.

Remember that once you’re ready to start using PrEP again, you must take the daily dose for seven consecutive days before it will protect you from HIV (ie. don’t have unprotected sex during those seven days).

  • HIV positive? Don’t stop taking your ARVs 

If you are HIV positive, do keep taking your ARVs (or get onto them if you are not currently on treatment). Being on ARVs will not only keep you healthy and reduce your risk of passing on HIV to others but will also help keep your immune system strong – very important during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • What if I need to get tested for HIV or an STI?

Our sexual health services are available as always but there are strict protocols at our facilities in place to protect you and our staff. We suggest that you make an appointment in advance. We have a “no mask, no service” policy, so don’t forget to wear it for your appointment.

To book at one of our facilities or for more information contact our national call centre number on 082 607 1686 to link you to a service in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Buffalo City or Nelson Mandela Bay.

If you are concerned that you have coronavirus and/or have any symptoms rather do not visit us and call the national coronavirus hotline for further advice and support: 0800 029 999.

To stay up to date on coronavirus news, developments and symptoms, save the official coronavirus WhatsApp service number on your phone: 060 012 3456. Send “hi” to the number and follow the prompts. You can also visit the SA government’s coronavirus website here.

Article sources: Terrence Higgins Trust / NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

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Engage Men’s Health provides free and confidential health services to Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City Metros. Engage Men’s Health wishes to appoint a suitably qualified individual to serve as the Medicine Delivery Driver in Johannesburg.

Key job purpose
The medicine delivery driver is responsible for transporting medication and medical supplies to all Engage Mens Health clients

Key duties and responsibilities:

  1. Inspect the delivery scooter for any maintenance needs including tyres, brake pads and report any mechanical issues.
  2. Maintaining a clean and organized scooter and having then washed weekly.
  3. Daily ensure that the scooter is filled with fuel daily and is parked in the company premises after use.
  4. Sign in and sign out scooter keys daily from Reception.
  5. Ensure that all medicine is safely and correctly packed in the scooter according to SOPs and unpacked on return to the office.
  6. Driving to designated locations, unloading, and/or loading medicines and obtaining a signature to confirm delivery of their medicines.
  7. Liaising with Peer Navigation and the DIC for medication packages.
  8. Follow a roster of delivery of prescription items to clients for ART/PrEP, and other PHC medication.
  9. Maintenance of accurate delivery logs, delivery locations may include client’s homes, outreach etc.
  10. Assist with loading and unloading medicines aligned with medicine storage and pharmacy good practice requirements.
  11. Maintain the scooter logbook and update daily.
  12. Assist with the development of a daily schedule of drop – offs and collections.
  13. Reviewing lists of deliveries before and after delivery to ensure that lists record outcomes.
  14. Ensuring compliance with paperwork for delivered items preparing reports and other documents relating to deliveries.

Qualifications and requirements

  1. Matric, Grade 12, a valid professional driver’s license for a scooter and South African ID
  2. Proven working experience as a Medicine Delivery Driver
  3. Good driving record with no traffic violations
  4. Excellent customer service skills
  5. Excellent time management skills
  6. Good knowledge of all 7 regions of the City of Johannesburg
  7. Punctual and possess excellent attendance habits.
  8. Candidates must be older than 25 years of age.

Engage Men’s Health reserves the right not to make this appointment.

Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted for the interviews.

Please only submit 3 pages (max) CV, certified copies matric certificate, South African ID and valid professional driver’s license for a scooter.

Applications can be submitted to the Melville Office Administrator or to recruitment@engagemenshealth.org.za by 20 January 2021.

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Happy Holidays!

Engage Men’s Health and all our services are closed for the festive season until Monday 4 January 2021.

EMH and our staff wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year ahead.

Should you have an emergency, such as needing urgent PEP, please go to your local clinic or Dischem pharmacy.

If you need urgent counselling while we are closed, please contact LifeLine’s 24 Hour Counseling Line on 011 422 4242 / 0861 322 322 or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.

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OUT’s Engage Men’s Health project wins Feather Award

We are humbled! OUT’s Engage Men’s Health project was honoured with a Feather Award for Best LGBTIQ Initiative – Private Sector on Wednesday 11 November.

EMH was recognised for the “inspiring” work that we do in providing free and accessible services to the MSM community.

The annual Feather Awards, which hosted its 12th event this year, celebrates and honours LGBTIQ and allied achievers, entertainers and activists.

Dawie Nel, the Director of OUT, accepted the award on behalf of the organisation at a glamorous awards ceremony at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.

We congratulate and thank OUT and EMH staff around the country for their commitment to our goal of attaining an HIV-free, inclusive and healthy world.

Congratulations also to our colleagues, EMH Office Manager Antoinett (Vaivi) Swartz and Moude Maodi-Swartz, OUT’s Paralegal and Human Resources Officer, who were named Cutest Couple of the Year. The lovebirds made us proud!

The Engage Men’s Health project, operated by OUT LGBT Well-being and funded by USAID and PEPFAR through FHI 360 Epic, was launched in 2019. It includes a clinic in Melville, Johannesburg and mobile outreach services in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros.

In October 2020, OUT’s TEN81 clinic and outreach services in Tshwane – funded by the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and CDC through the Aurum Institute – also joined the Engage Men’s Health family.

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I will not announce my sexuality

When someone is gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual, they are expected to come out to people. This is a form of an announcement that is expected from the LGBT community. We are expected to tell our parents, siblings, relatives, friends, colleagues and sometimes even a total stranger about our sexuality. Is this because a person wants to accept you as you are, or is it because they want to treat you different because you are not heterosexual?

I always felt the need to go around telling people that I am homosexual and this was because I wanted them to accept me, but what’s there to “accept”? Am I not human after all? Love me for being human and who I am sexually attracted to clearly doesn’t need any acceptance from you. The truth is that even after coming across homophobic individuals that never “accepted” homosexuality, I was still sexually attracted to men. This made me ask myself as to why should I do it.

Some people expect you to announce your sexuality so that they cannot say the wrong things. It is more like filtering out their homophobic words or actions to make you feel “comfortable”. A person might say “I wouldn’t want a gay child” until you mention that you are gay. That’s when you see them trying to backpaddle and attempt a lame cover-up by saying something like “A child is always a blessing, so if I had a gay child, I would still love him”. Now ask yourself about the potentially homophobic statement the person could’ve said if you hadn’t “come out”.

For how long must I feel unwelcome, misunderstood, misinterpreted, weird, socially unacceptable, imperfect and small before I announce my sexuality to people? There’s so much pretence after someone comes out to people. We need to understand the difference between living a lie and living for you. Living a lie is pretty much when you are living a life that is not yours. Living for you, on the other hand, is when you understand that you do not owe anybody an explanation. Not for your choices, your actions, your sexual preference or any other thing that is not actually their business, to begin with.

Coming out may be a choice, but why is it a choice given to any sexuality except heterosexuals? It is as if we are obliged to do so. It’s about time we understood that we owe nobody any explanation.

There’s a difference between “I am a homosexual man/woman” and being proud of it, to “I am a homosexual man/woman” then having to wait for their approval. There is really no need for me to announce my sexuality if the next person cannot announce theirs. I am proud of who I am, and I don’t need society’s approval for that. In the end, it’s a choice for someone to come out, but I question the reasoning behind it. It is almost as if you were not free up to then and you can only be so after announcing it.

Here’s something you need to ask yourself: Am I coming out for society’s sake? Or am I doing it for myself? Your answer will help you figure out a way forward. As for me? I live for myself. I do not want to be tolerated by society. Still, I would love to be respected and have society understand that I have human rights. Who I love and have a sexual attraction to? That’s my life.

I am not disputing coming out. If doing so makes you feel at ease, then do it. At the end of the day, life is about making choices that will make your life easier and happier. Just remember to do it for you and not for the next person.

If a person asks if I’m gay, I’ll definitely say yes, but I won’t go up to them to announce my sexuality.

These are the writer’s views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV.
To book an appointment at EMH in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay or Buffalo City metros, WhatsApp message/call 082 607 1686.
To book an appointment at EMH in Pretoria, call 012 430 3272 or WhatsApp message/call 066 190 5812.

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The Step-Homo

This gift of life we got given is somewhat of a mixed box of chocolates. Some parts are genuinely amazing and bring you endless joy. These are the strawberry creams and the mint creams, and represent puppy breath and freshly brewed coffee. Others, well others get stuck in your teeth. These are the hard toffees that no one even bothered to coat in chocolate, why is it there? For instance, the dentist – not fabulous, standing in line at home affairs, even less so.

Then there are those middle-of-the-fence chocolates that could be either, depending on the day. The ginger jelly, the orange cream and that damn green triangle that everyone fights over but no one really loves. These represent things like being LGBTQI+, dating, being a parent, any one of these could be fab or crap depending on the day.

But what happens when life decides to combine those last three scenarios? While I’m a proud queer individual, there are times in our society that it feels like being a wet toffee apple in a tumble dryer with a feather pillow. I was a teacher for 5 years, so I don’t wish parenting on anyone, but I can see why it would be rewarding for some. Quite frankly, dating is an adult-sized game of whack-a-mole where you repeatedly beat back for just popping up and being who you are. So why would you want to combine three of the iffiest qualities possible in life?

Well, Celine Dion said it best, “Love doesn’t ask why”. When you meet someone and the universe aligns, the heart wants what it wants. And if what your heart wants comes with children from a previous relationship, you have some decisions to make.

Being the (gay) stepfather is a bit of a minefield on many levels, and you will need to tread carefully. There are children involved. You might end up facing some backlash from a conservative ex-spouse. Regardless of the reason for their original break up you have to anticipate some mixed feelings from the other parent. They are trying to protect their little ones the way they know how – their methods might be twisted, but I need to believe they want only the best. I was in a relationship with a man for two years who had no access to his children because he was gay. While I wanted nothing more than to meet them, it never happened before things fizzled out. Incidentally, now I live 5 streets away from the mother and kids – still haven’t met them.

The kids come first
You are an A-type personality and everybody loves you, right? Wrong. These children might not. And this is not down to the requisite stepmother hairy mole on your chin, sometimes it just happens. As evolved as we are in modern society, we should be teaching our children to be evolved too. Little Johnny might (still) not understand why Daddy and Uncle Brian are holding hands because they have only ever seen mommy and daddy together. It’s up to the parents to bridge that gap. Take your cue from your partner. He will know how he wants to handle this part of his children’s development. When I was a child of divorced parents, I would plot ways to get my parents split from their partners and back together. It’s natural. It doesn’t make them a nasty little crotch-goblin. Your job is to treat children with kindness. That’s it. Give them time. They either will come around or they won’t, and at that point, you and your partner need to have a conversation.

To the single parent out there reading this and looking for Prince Charming – please don’t think I’m advising you indulge your child being a brat. You are the parent and you make the rules. But you can also see if your child is miserable. And if a man cannot deal with you and your kids as a package, it doesn’t make him a jerk, and it doesn’t make your kids vile, it just means that was not the one. Keep looking. Your fairy tale is out there.

These are the writer’s views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV.
To book an appointment at EMH in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay or Buffalo City metros, WhatsApp message/call 082 607 1686.
To book an appointment at EMH in Pretoria, call 012 430 3272 or WhatsApp message/call 066 190 5812.

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Myths about anal sex

When it comes to anal sex, there are a lot of myths out there. Like any other sex act, there are misconceptions everywhere but with anal, it seems like there are far more bandied about. Here we debunk some of these myths.

1. “All gays have anal sex”
Not true. Not everyone likes anal sex, and it is not one-size-fits-all. Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea of anal penetration or have tried it and found that it really isn’t for them. Some guys only top, some only bottom, some both, some not at all. It’s an individual choice.

2. “It will hurt”
Sadly, many people associate anal play with pain due to previous bad experiences or lack of understanding on how to make anal play enjoyable. Pleasurable anal sex is 90% preparation, and that includes getting mentally prepared. You can’t just shove a penis in – that will probably hurt. Going from erect straight into the anus (in a matter of seconds) is a no-no. The anal sphincter is strong, yet sensitive. It is best if you start small, with something like fingers, and then work your way towards something larger such as a butt plug or the penis. It is essential to relax the anal sphincter and to take it slow.

3. “It is dirty”
Anal hygiene is one of the most common concerns that people have about anal play. Fortunately, it isn’t that difficult to manage, and actual “pooping” during the act is extremely rare. However, you may find that poop is transferred to fingers, a sex toy, or penis if you have not taken any steps to rinse out the anal canal. At a minimum, to prevent any poop appearance, a bowel movement and shower before your anal adventure is suggested.
If you want more peace of mind that your playtime will be clean, you can try douching. It is best to complete this process at least an hour beforehand. You can try a reusable enema, or you can use a disposable enema (available at any pharmacy).

4. “Anal sex is just like what you see in porn”
Is any kind of sex just like what you see in porn? Anal sex requires preparation, and this can include conversations about protection beforehand, like PrEP, ARVs or condoms. When you watch it in porn, anal sex might seem like something you can launch into spontaneously, but real-life anal requires more care and consideration.

5. “Only ‘city’ girls and gays have anal sex”
Anal sex does not only take place between gay or bi men. It is also quite common among heterosexual people and that includes both men and women. Ever heard of pegging? Go look it up. It is falsely believed that anal sex is not enjoyable for women (because they don’t have a prostate) and that anal sex is associated with pain. This misconception of pain during anal play leads some to think that only people into BDSM (bondage) do it.

6. “You don’t need to use condoms when you have anal sex”
Condoms are recommended when having anal sex to prevent many STIs, including HIV. Most STIs are transferrable through the anus (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, infectious hepatitis, and HIV). Some even more so, because the lining of the anus is thin and can be broken if too much dry friction occurs (which is why it is important to use lube). While being HIV undetectable if a guy is positive or being on PrEP if a guy is negative are also very effective ways to prevent HIV transmission they do not prevent other STIs.

7. “Your anus will get all stretched out”
There have been rumours of men who engaged in so much anal activity that they actually lost control of their bowel movements. This is extremely unlikely to happen and these falsehoods are often used to attack men who have sex with men.  Your anus can learn to become more relaxed during sex (in part because you may become more mentally relaxed) but the sphincter muscles revert to their normal state afterwards. It is, of course, possible to hurt yourself if you aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing or if you’re forcing your body (or your partner’s body) to do something that doesn’t feel good. And, if you suffer from haemorrhoids or any other condition that affects your anus or rectum, you may want to be more cautious and check with your doctor. Also, if it hurts or feels uncomfortable, listen to your body.

For free sexual health services – including PrEP and HIV/STI testing and treatment – in the Johannesburg metro, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City or Pretoria, WhatsApp call or message us on 082 607 1686.

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Nicky DragShaw in Wonderland

“Dear culture, oh, culture… A dream! An out of body experience! How snow goes up my nose, into my brain and makes all my sexual fantasies come true!”, I thought.

The intense association with drugs and sex started just after my much-failed marriage – where I gave up my career for a man who promised me the world, the moon and all the stars above. The Prada, YSL, Gucci and all things refined had a girl orgasm. A twist of fantasy overriding the real world. A fascination of all the possibilities of what once was imagined, manifesting itself into reality.

Now let us take you back way in time and give you a feel and an origin. “Who am I?” This queen – Nicky DragShaw – comes from a humble beginning; based in the east of Johannesburg, a middle-class queer child, who had witnessed both light and darkness at their highest frequencies.

With that said, let’s dive back into my first experience with drugs and sex. It ignited a feeling neither imagined nor explainable. After leaving who I thought was the love of my life, my soul couldn’t help but crave further exploration of what life could offer, and the idea was the Mother City (Cape Town, baby)!

On my arrival, I had nothing but a dream and a bit that I saved, and girl I do mean a bit. I started hopping from one spot to the other. I was exploring, learning, discovering; and in all these new experiences, my powdery friend was a part of the journey. Almost like ‘she’ was following me everywhere I would go; private parties, hook-ups, clubs, pubs, bars, etc. (“Snowy” I called my powdery friend). Oh she made me feel like I could conquer the world, blinding me from all realities. Sexual desire was the ultimate power, Lilith was alive and DragShaw had left the room.

How they touched me in volumes! Deeply seeding me and instantly making me feel wanted. Shortly after, it took what was most precious and left me with nothing but a soulless feeling. I could not help but wonder if the darkness and white lines had both befriended me!

“Lights, camera, action” to an unscripted Telenovela horror became my reality. Couple hook-ups and dinner dates with Elite Singles (from all over the world) became a norm. Oh, baby! Let’s not forget the orgies and the sex parties! My powdery-gram friend gave me all sorts of ideas, imaginations and satisfaction that were once non-existent. It was almost like a biblical reference to a story I read in the Holy Book – you know, the part where evil was cast into a pig. I felt that reference was a very big part of my life at that point and this cycle needed to stop at once.

When my mind would sober up, an electric shock wave would hit my body and fear would be the ruler. There I was, “NickyDragshaw” running in and out of the clinic yet again, like a New Yorker looking for a cast on Broadway. The thrill was something of a soundtrack from the Lana Del Rey “Born to Die” album (“Carmen” to be a bit more specific) – live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.

Being fresh meat in beautiful Cape Town, they couldn’t get enough! DragShaw was finally in Wonderland! … “Bottoms up and top my glass full” became not only my language but a lifestyle.

One had to drastically stop and look at the reoccurring patterns of this midnight-blue influenced life, filled with gorgeous crystallized white lines, high fashion and champagne, and figure out how to turn that into an illuminating light that one can’t live without. What is my true purpose in life?

I channeled the hurt and the pain into dreams and goals. Girlfriend, without the insight and the support from EMH, I cannot help but wonder how life could have turned out for me.

I went from having conversations with the staff to becoming their digital marketing consultant, and to being a part of the process of shining a light onto Africa and onto the world (on the importance of having a healthier sexual life). And to right here, right now: sharing the most treasured and untold stories from my personal experiences. It’s almost like that whisper I had heard had it all mapped out for me. “Be the change you want to see and engage for a change!” has become my new narrative.

As “Gossip Girl” would say:
“You know you want me… XOXO!”

These are the writer’s views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV. Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

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HIV status: to disclose or not

One would think that the most significant health challenge is finding out that you are HIV positive because of perpetuated stigma. I remember in the early 2000s learning that HIV cannot spread through the sharing of cutlery. Recently we have also come to learn that people with an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV onto a sexual partner. Even with this ground-breaking research, disclosing one’s status remains a treacherous ground.

I must say, life was easier when the only thing that crossed your mind at the mention of disclosure was anything but the state of your health. Now it fuels anxiety, and sometimes I feel like we are a cough away from soliciting people’s medical records because we have become such a curious and entitled society. A lot of us would like to believe that we are progressive because we read, throwing shade such as ‘Read! A bottle label, a book cover or something, but just read’ suggesting that your noise lacks depth. The problem is, how much of what we read and of what we are aware of, do we use to ostracize and further drive the stigma around living with HIV? This is for the textbook narcissists at the back.

I have learned that disclosure is not even the multi-neon-colored elephant in the room, but how people react and start projecting stereotypes when they find out that you are living with the virus. It is how a one-night stand from a club or Grindr, turns into a lesson of “When”, “How” and “How many”.

To the oblivious, you become seen as someone who can possibly pass on the virus by merely breathing and being within the same space with someone who is not living with the virus. These do not even scratch the surface but are enough to have someone pull their pants straight up. A few dates into seeing someone who ticks a lot of the boxes –and not all boxes because you have to lower your expectations when it comes to dating these days, great sex and conversation that run deeper than any trauma you have already suffered because being gay, you decide to disclose your status. Before you can add anything else, you are labelled irresponsible and inconsiderate, because sex is not a two-way street, right?

It is not between two, or more (because group projects are always fun) consenting adults who are supposed to take the necessary measures to protect each other and themselves, but this is rather seen as the positive person’s responsibility, and if you find yourself agreeing with the latter, we are going to need more wine because did you know that an undetectable viral load means you cannot transmit the virus? U=U? You are welcome.

Nonetheless, it should never be the sole responsibility of the person living with the virus to run a marathon before coitus, and recently I have had the pleasure of working with someone living with the virus, and he assured me that life was roses and sunshine despite people trying to make thorns out of it, he also mentioned that he never experienced any stigma since he learned of his status.

‘Progressive’ does make you sound well-informed when thrown into a conversation while holding your teacup with your pinkie out. Still, a lot of the progressive have very little to no concern as to who has been there.

Stigma is only perpetuated by the few who have not done the work and feel entitled to know the health status of others just so they can throw protection to the wind. Still, in the same light, it is everyone’s responsibility to know their status and help curb the spread, and this does not start at disclosure but knowing your status.

Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS has been labelled as a hornier devil because of how it is commonly spread, even with the long list of other sexually transmitted diseases. We want and expect people to disclose their HIV status but have little regard to unlearn and let go of internalized stereotypes which become more apparent every single time we engage. All the gay people in me are tired of this ill-informed narrative.

Never feel compelled to disclose, prep it, wrap it, get your rounds and go.

Lebogang Mogale is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). EMH is in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. Our services include free HIV and other STI testing, treatment, PrEP and PEP. WhatsApp message or call us on 082 607 1686.

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My big fat gay problem

“All of the men in L.A. are a bunch of 10’s looking for an 11. On a good night, and if the other guy’s drunk enough…
I’m a 6.” – The Broken Hearts Club

There are many sayings in this life that we learn to live with as part of everyday living. For instance, “You are what you eat”, “It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean” or “Life begins at 40”. We say these things to make ourselves feel better. I know and accept that they are not true because I am not a box of KFC dunked wings, I’m hung like a Jack Russel and in my late 30’s I’m ready for a retirement home, but we still say them because it’s polite. Clichés are sometimes a necessary part of survival in modern society.

These are all good and well for a regular-sized person, but when you are plus-sized you get a few bonus sayings thrown in for good measure. “You’re beautiful as you are”, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, “Don’t eat that cupcake, you’re sweet enough” or my personal favorite, “Let’s just be friends”.

Dating life is a meat grinder that will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t have your wits about you. Everyone has a story of disaster or heartbreak and unrequited love. Now, double your weight and re-imagine the story. The likelihood is, the bad break up would never have happened because the other person would not have agreed to a first date in the first place. Devastating right?

Not really. While it seems vile that someone could judge you or dismiss you based solely on your appearance, physical attraction is not something we choose. You like what you like. Let me put it in food terms for you, I’m good with food — pineapple on pizza. You’re either going to love it or despise it. And nothing that anyone says is likely to change your mind if you think the idea is not your taste. Back on the same page? Good.

If someone doesn’t feel attracted to you, it sucks, but it’s ok and it’s certainly not the end of the world. Should you go to pieces? Absolutely not. It may hurt but honestly, do you want someone as your significant other if they are only trying to love you as you are? Didn’t think so. As the old saying goes, love is like a fart. If you have to force it, it’s probably a turd.

The big deal comes with how the situation is dealt with. Now, there are good guys out there. Some of my best friends I’ve made along the way were initially matches made on Tinder or Grindr. When the spark wasn’t there, we became close in other ways. And I’m grateful for those.

There have also been some dark places. I’ve waited at a restaurant for a date and saw the guy walk in, notice me, and make a U-turn. I’ve been told on Grindr “sorry I’m not into group sex or farm animals”. I’ve even had one gentleman, bless him, tell me “Sorry, my sister was playing with my Grindr because I would definitely not have messaged you.”

Now, to my fellow people ranging between 0-6 on the “hotness” scale, listen carefully: your value is not determined by someone else’s opinion of you. Let that sink in. Reread it. You are also not a charity case or a victim. Not everyone has to like you, you’re not chocolate. Him not liking you doesn’t automatically make him an ass.

To the 7-10 range folks out there: If you have ranked yourself, you might be a douche – get that checked out. If a ranking system depends on who you will date or not, we probably won’t get along anyway. If you read nothing else read this: that big guy that you called fat last week or blocked without thanking them for the compliment, they know they’re big. They are painfully aware of that. They don’t need you to tell them that.

Life is short. Don’t be a dick. Your bliss should never come at the cost of someone else’s.

Craig Stadler is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). EMH is in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. Our services include free HIV and other STI testing, treatment, PrEP and also PEP. WhatsApp message or call us on 082 607 1686.

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