The Stupid Question: “Are You Clean?”

by Mark S. King

I took a shower this morning. I am clean. I might work out at the gym later, or maybe the trash bag will break on the way outside and I will scoop up coffee grounds and put them back into the bag. I will then be dirty. I will shower again. And I will be clean.

Anyone who questions whether or not HIV stigma is on the rise need look no further than online profiles and hookup sites, in which “Are you clean?” is asked with infuriating regularity. Or perhaps you have suffered the indignity of someone asking you “The Stupid Question” while negotiating a tryst. The sheer ignorance boggles the mind.

Implying that I am somehow “dirty” because I am HIV positive may not be the intention of the person asking the question. Perhaps they are sincerely trying to assess the level of risk they might be taking. But it also implies that they may raise their level of risk-taking should you answer “Yes, I am clean.” To place one’s trust in this answer, and to base your sexual behavior on it, is precisely how people become infected with HIV.

The person being asked may not have tested recently. Or has been infected since the last test. Or is lying because they’re afraid, or ashamed, or nervous, or don’t feel safe being honest because of ramifications about which you have no idea. So it’s ultimately a fairly useless exercise.

Thus, the ignorance and danger of The Stupid Question. And, because it is asked fairly exclusively by people who believe themselves to be HIV negative, it sets up an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Positive vs. Negative. Clean vs. Dirty.

“They don’t mean any harm,” you may be thinking. Well, words have meaning, my friend. The ignorance evident in The Stupid Question makes it no less offensive. While the intent may be harmless, is does do harm to people with HIV by increasing stigma and driving a further wedge between HIV positive and negative people. Like it or not, it is an assessment of the sexual viability of someone, and by extension, their “worthiness” as a human being.

In my more hedonistic days — which admittedly were not exactly long ago in a galaxy far, far away — I was dumbstruck by the conversations I would have in gay public sex venues, even the most anonymous ones. “Are you clean?” would come the question by the gentleman who was fully prepared to engage in unsafe sex should my answer please him. “Really?” I would answer, “I mean, are you serious? You’re going to take the word of someone in a dark room that you couldn’t pick out of a lineup?” I would then explain, spoken at times through a three-inch hole in the wall, that if this question was his sole criteria, then he really needed to leave this place and go directly to an HIV and STD testing center. Post haste.

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  1. Actually, since I’ve been poz for more than 30 years, that’s NOT what I worry about if someone asks me that question. One of the side effects from the virus, can be no longer being able to douche or “clean out’ the male intestinal track as quickly and throughly as before for deep intestinal play. In other words, I want to get clean so my ass can get some hard play. Doesn’t happen. The first few times are embarassming. Then you may GIVE UP being a bottom. Finally, you wpeqk to doctor, he explains what needs to be changed. (STILL WAITING…for that first assplay session. Someone, PLEASE, play with my hole!)

  2. When people ask me are you clean; I say well I did shower and douched properly, also am wearing deodorant unless you don't want me to.

  3. Are you clean is a stupid question asked by men without the balls to ask the question they really want to know the answer to. Just come out and ask "Are you HIV Positive?" I am, and before any meet I make sure someone knows. I say, "I am HIV Positive, is that a problem?" They will either respond yes or no. Either way, the ball is in their court with full knowledge.

    Being HIV Positive has an advantage though. Someone wants to fuck with you and you don't with them, I tell them and that usually ends their pursuit. Although I would rather not be with HIV.

  4. what's the point in asking are you clean. HIV to some guys is a sex death sentence and they will lie through their teeth and couldn't care less….

  5. Ridiculous!!!! I hate that term. I take great pride in showering and cleaning my hole thoroughly. How dare you ask “are you clean” fuck that shit. That’s a dick wilter for me. If u wanna fuck bareback accept the risk and just fuck, if u wanna use a condom or are unsure about what u want stay celebate

  6. It's NOT a stupid question. People have a right to know. I don't do infectees. Period. I have to know. And you better answer, if I don;t believe you – we're not fucking. Not even with a condom.

    1. "Are you clean," is an ambiguous question. "Are you HIV Positive," is the right question to ask. Do not be afraid to ask this question. As an HIV Positive man, this question does not offend me. One question for you though? Do you fuck bareback? How long do you think you can go before you become positive from topping bareback? I got to 40 years old, fucking for 22 years bareback. In the SFO Bay Area. I was lucky.

    2. I knew when i wrote "Not even with a condom" that it would read the wrong way. But, I fuck with condoms. And when i say clean. I know what I mean…and I belive so do they. My two cents.

  7. People just want an "out" in case they get infected… "I didn't know" "The guy lied to me" If they truly cared about not becoming HIV+ then they would just NOT engage in risky acts. Most people today just don't see infection as a huge deal, the biggest downside of becoming positive in todays world is the stigma attached to it. People just don't want to be viewed in a negative light based on what they do, just as people don't want that based on what their health status. Its a bunch of stupid people fucking basically, better just not to talk…

    1. I agree with you about NOT engaging in risky acts. Every STD I ever got is my own fault for engaging in risky acts, including HIV. No one to blame but myself. But for my own conscious I divulge this information to potential sex partners. If you do not want to know, do not ask. If you do not care about becoming HIV Positive, do not ask. However, if you want this one guy to fuck bareback with you and you really want it bad, do not ask any questions and just do it, but remember in the end it is your own fault and that of no one else. Only you control your life.

  8. well people due lie about std I say trust no one always wear a condom or you might be crying out the door your next trip to the clinic.

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