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HIV+ Dating Sites Offer an Alternative

by Ambrose Aban

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 27, 2008

"Poz-only" dating sites have finally arrived online. Their owners are hoping they help people infected with HIV meet others without the fear and exclusion they might encounter on other gay dating sites. Even more, they hope to foster a sense of belonging within a larger HIV-positive community.

The focus is one of being out and proud as an HIV-positive gay man--and away from the stigma of HIV. The sites also give the men a forum to talk about it. The hope is that, when the secrecy and shame of it is removed, HIV will lose some of its power over their lives.

The sites include BeOneCity, launched recently in Los Angeles, PositiveSingles, PozitiveLiving, PozMatch.com, PositivePersonals--all personals web sites for HIV+ people.

Angelenos Peter Brook and David Purdue created BeOneCity. Brooks says his site fills the void he found online when he seroconverted not so long ago. "We intend to expand our online services to provide a global HIV positive 'sister' site within a year that will serve the heterosexual positive community," Brook says.

BeOneCity isn't your typical dating or meet-up site. For one thing, it offers relevant news. It also aims to be a forum for pozzers. But like the others, it is above all a relationship site catering to those living with the virus.

"We bridge the gap between the myriad non-profit and for-profit HIV organizations, all working against HIV," Brook says. "We put a lot of effort into supporting other groups and partnering with them. This offers us a real-world focus for us and for our members, and gives us a community experience in the real world--something often neglected from our life with HIV."

Why Self-Serosort?
The policy among many gay men remains "don't ask, don't tell" on dating sites. General gay sites like Manhunt also currently offers serosorting for its members as well. "We know being able to serosort is valuable to many of our HIV-positive members," Manhunt's new chief marketing officer told EDGE.

Robert Brandon Sandor founded Poz4Poz, a series of parties for pozzers a decade ago and the new HIV-UB2.Net (www.hiv-ub2.net). He has been a strong advocate for serosorting among gay men.

"Years ago, those who tested HIV-positive had few places to turn for support," he says. "Fortunately, much has changed. We know more about HIV now. No one is going to be infected with HIV if they have sex with partners who are sharing the same serostatus."

Many organizations and HIV experts have not embraced serosorting. Although serosorting is entirely based on the foundation of trust, it is still a good way to reduce (if not stop) the spread of HIV to negative men, Sandor argues.

The men who have developed these sites say they are driven by a strong social mission. They believe that their sites can be unifying places where they can mobilize together to help stop HIV. Part of the reason for such sites now is the movement away from HIV from an eventual death sentence to a far more manageable condition.

This is true for straight men living with HIV as well as gay men. Donald Johnson, who founded PositiveLiving.com in 1997 in Austin, Texas, shortly after he was diagnosed with HIV, created his site at a time when there was no way to meet other pozzers.

Like other most online dating sites, Johnson's site lets users post statistics from height to education, as well a paragraph describing what they are looking for in a relationship. The site also includes advertisements from people looking for roommates or potential friends. If two people decide they want to meet, it is up to them to exchange phone numbers and addresses through e-mail. So far, the free Web service averages 100,000 unique visitors per month, many of them international users.

For Johnson, the success of the site is especially sweet because he met his new wife after she posted a personal ad.

A Safe Space
Chad Morrett, who created and runs PositivePersonals out of Seattle, said the Internet provides a safe, secure place to meet others living with a disease that can be difficult to discuss in person. "When I was diagnosed, I didn't know anyone else who was HIV-positive,'' Morrett told a Florida newspaper, recently. "It was a little frightening.''

AIDS advocates say many people prefer to use online dating services because they provide a sense of control. Also, those on other dating sites might be scared off by the disease--or tell others, says Terje Anderson, director of the National Association of People With AIDS.

"If you do tell someone you're HIV-positive and do it face to face in a small town, you don't know what that person will do with the information," adds Anderson. On these sites, they can put their HIV status out there with an ad, but still be anonymous.

PositivesDating, founded by best friends, Brandon Koechlin and Paul Graves, both 24, in Columbus, Ohio, in 2005, offers free and paid memberships. Visitors can log in to the site's chat rooms and search through thousands of available member profiles. Paid memberships allow users to keep in contact via e-mail and see who's been viewing their profiles.

The founders told Entrepreneur, that during the first four months, PositivesDating operated as a free site to build membership. They also sent out informational postcards to support groups all over the country, such as AIDS Project Los Angeles. PositivesDating has close to 2,500 paid members. Monthly memberships start around $14 a month.

'You cannot stop love or lust with your serostatus--nor should you.'

As on dating sites like eHarmony, users can take a personality profile survey, after which they receive an analysis of their personality type and what kind of partner would best suit them. They also receive a list of possible member matches based on their characteristics and personality.

These sites tell you that testing positive is not the end of your life or the end of your chances at love. They certainly tell you that it is not the end of your great sex life. The sites are saying that testing positive is, while a tough thing to hear and a tough challenge to overcome, also offers a new beginning.


In fact, the sites' growing popularity could lead to a battle against the non-serosorting sites like Manhunt and Adam4Adam.

The sites can make the claim to be fighting AIDS in other ways BeOneCity donates 20 percent of proceeds to charities, the American Foundation for AIDS Research and Keep a Child Alive.

Brooks considers it his mission to help educate people to the fact that HIV is not a death sentence. He became HIV positive fairly recently. Although he was gay, he was fairly na?ve about the disease. He thought of HIV as a disease that would never happen to him.

"I was simply too smart and too careful to get it," he says. "I realized my criteria for understanding HIV and indeed understanding myself, was quite lacking. Very quickly I realized that I was 'blessed' to have contracted HIV in a new era when it is no longer aligned with death and decay; rather it is now a chronic and fairly manageable disease and thankfully, I can expect to live a long life."

BeOneCity's articles and links are selected to help people cope with HIV. "You Are Not Alone", for example, was recently published for the newly diagnosed. Authors Jim Lewis and Michael Slocum, formerly of BodyPositive (www.bodypositive.com), discuss the difference between HIV and AIDS.

All the sites also share a common love of sharing and listening.

Finding out that you are infected can be overwhelming. Testing HIV-positive has led some people to quit their jobs, quickly write out their wills, and say goodbye to their friends and family, only to discover that they aren't sick and will probably live for many years to come.

But one of the truths of joining these sites after you've been infected with HIV is that once you know, you can never not know again. Life will always be different. You may be experiencing great feelings of loss about this. You may feel that certain areas of your life are now in the hands of doctors, insurance companies, or symptoms. This can make you feel as though you have less control over your own life and may cause you incredible anxiety. And you're far from alone: Today, over 1 million Americans are infected with HIV.

"A lot of people afflicted with HIV become social outcasts," Brook says. Maybe that's why BeOneCity and other sites have attracted members from as far away as India and Africa. Membership encompasses men and women gay and straight, aged 25 to 70 and from several ethnic backgrounds.

"There is no need for you to handle your loneliness and fear by yourself, and it is probably a mistake even to try to do it alone," Brook says. "Just hearing how someone else has adjusted to living with the virus can be enough to help you realize that life is still good, that you can still have love and laughter."

If there is one complaint, it comes from Sandor. Ever the activist, he believes that these sites should discuss serosorting itself. "There are three forms of serosorting," he says, "and two involve safe sex--but none of the sites stress the importance of serosorting."

"BeOneCity is a nice site and I understand its usefulness, but I really wish sites like these weren't necessary," says Nir Zilberman, the founder of Just One LA (www.justonela.com). "As gay men and women, we are all one community. I don't understand why we need to divide ourselves into smaller segments"

Brook obviously disagrees: "We offer a safe place to unite together. At BeOneCity we can be ourselves, without the judgment or the stigma we often experience from the outside world because of our HIV status."

Research shows positive guys want to date, hang out and hook-up with other positive guys. But Brook disagrees with Sandor's straight-down-the-line position on serosorting.

"It takes the disclosure, the worry and any legal issues out of the equation and it provides us with the assurance that there is no chance for us to spread HIV," Brook says. "We do not suggest that positive guys should not be with negative guys. I have had negative boyfriends myself, and you cannot stop love or lust with your serostatus--nor should you."
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Caught between the moon and New York City which he calls home since 2000, Ambrose Aban wrote for Malaysia, Singapore and Bangkok Tatler, reviewed restaurants and wrote special ad supplement, "Christopher Street", for HX Magazine New York, contributed to leading English dailies in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Ambrose loves giving up the secrets of everything from where to find the most delicious Orange Glazed Peking Duck to how to prepare extravagant chic soirees in the city.

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