George's LGBTea: 6 Tips For “Cuffing Season” …and Getting Tested
It’s starting to get cold outside again, and with that comes folks looking for another body to keep them warm during the cool winter nights. Often referred to as “cuffing season,” it’s a time when people are more likely to enter into relationships, as there is less of a chance to be out and about. Many opt to stay home with the hope of finding that perfect “Netflix and Chill” situation. However, it is important that with the start of the 4th quarter (Oct-Dec) that you are getting tested, especially before entering into any new relationship situations.
Check out the slideshow below.
1. Get Tested for HIV
This is for those who are sexually active and haven’t been tested since their last sexual encounter. It is important that if you are sexually active that you are getting tested -- at a minimum -- once a year, but preferably quarterly. The CDC has projected that 50% of Black Gay men will contract the HIV virus over their lifetime. HIV is 8x more likely to infect Black gay men and 4x more likely to infect Latino men. And Black Women are still at the highest rates of infection! It’s important that HIV testing becomes part of your regularly scheduled healthcare check-ups.
2. Get tested for all other STIs
HIV testing is just the beginning. There are several different sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that drastically rise during the colder months of the year, due to the increase of sexual activity from folks being inside more. There are several STIs one should be getting checked for on a quarterly basis, along with HIV, if sexually active. Gonorrhea, hepatitis C, Syphilis, and Chlamydia are all considered a part of the “full panel” of testing that you can get for free from most local health agencies and clinics.
3. Talk with your sexual partners about testing
This is the part that I feel many of us struggle with, and it’s part conditioning and part society that are to blame. We live in a generation where everything is social media-driven and human interaction is at an all-time low. Because of this, normal conversations that people would’ve had in the past either go unsaid or are understated, even though an important dialogue is needed around sex. It’s okay to get tested together before entering into a relationship, Whether it’s a friend with benefits or a “situationship,” you should be able to ask “when were you last tested” and “what is your status” without feeling that lump in your throat. We have to push past our comfort levels when protecting our own sexual health. The risks are too high to not have full conversations.
4. Talk with your sexual partner about terms
Another part of this equation that often goes unsaid is the part around how committed both parties are to one another. If you plan on cuffing for the winter, that’s fine. But if you are cuffing with multiple people and not sharing this information with your partner, you are setting yourself and others up for a social sex circle where viruses can easily be passed around. It may hurt your feelings to know that the person you want to primarily cuff with may not only want to do this with you. But it’s worth knowing up-front what you are walking into. You also have a duty to protect yourself and your partners, and you should be willing to give this type of information up if asked. It is something we seldom do, but is a good practice to get in the habit of doing.
5. PrEP. It exists.
Years into this drug being available there is still not enough information being shared on it. PrEP is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, an HIV medication for HIV-negative people that can be used prior to engaging in sexual intercourse. It is a drug that is over 90% effective in fighting against the transmission of HIV when having sex with someone who is HIV-positive. It’s a great option for those who plan on being sexually active, especially if you don’t plan on using condoms during intercourse. A doctor must prescribe the drug, and there are several programs that can help if you can’t afford to pay for the drug or if you’re without insurance.
6. Get Educated
This article is lighthearted in the subject matter of “cuffing” but heavy on the information being shared, as it applies to us not only during the winter months. It is so important that, moving forward, we begin educating each other when traditional places like hospitals, clinics, and media do a poor job of keeping us all informed. There is a wealth of information out there to help you with understanding your sexual health and your options. Be sure to speak with your local Community-Based Organizations and friends who may be well versed in this information so you can be making the best decisions around protecting yourself.