Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.
Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!
There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.
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I was born in Watford, just outside London, and spent the first 17 years of my life there. It was pretty horrible growing up gay in the 1970s in Britain when it wasn’t acceptable. The only role models on TV were incredibly camp male performers who denied that they were gay in real life. That’s what everybody thought being gay meant.
I was raised Baptist and was taken to Sunday School every Sunday. It was a very sheltered upbringing. To us it was normal because that’s all we knew, but when you leave home you realise that’s not really a normal upbringing at all.
I was heavily bullied at school for being different. I wasn’t a typical masculine male, I wasn’t good at sports and the other kids called me a girl because I wasn’t fitting in.
I knew what I was, but I thought that’s what a ‘straight’ person was. I didn’t know there was a possibility that I could even be gay, it had only been painted in negative colours from the media, from bullying at school and from church.
Every direction I turned it wasn’t an option, so I thought that I was straight and this is what straight people were like. I knew I didn’t want to be like the ultra-camp performers on TV.
In my teenage years I switched from the Baptist church to a ‘happy clappy’, Holy Spirit and miracles church. They knew I was gay, I didn’t. They put in me in counselling for seven years and must have told people before I met them, “He’s struggling with his sexuality....” So when I met new people through the church, their opening line would be, “you know Jonathan and David were blood brothers, not lovers.” In counselling, they’d say things like “gay isn’t a thing.” That is what I absorbed for seven years.
I went out with women as a teenager because there was a huge peer pressure to do so. I was desperate to prove that I was fitting in. The church thought it was fantastic because I wouldn’t make a move on any of the girls – so I was being holy! It must have frustrated the women I went out with because after three months I still hadn’t made a move on them.
I accidentally touched a boob once. She saw the look on my face, we broke up shortly after.
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I fully believed that I was straight, right up to the age of 22 when I met a gay guy who was in a baseball cap, denim jeans, trainers and a t-shirt. We went for a drink and I talked about religion. Then he dropped me back home and I said “Thanks for the chat, I’m sure we can be friends but I won’t go out with you because I’m straight.”
That night I couldn’t sleep because I was grinning so much my face hurt. The next morning I decided there could only be one explanation, that I was gay too.
I had this indoctrination if people thought they were gay then they had to be celibate. So I told my church that was my plan, expecting them to be happy for me. The second I told them, they announced “gay isn’t something you are it’s something you do, so if you say you are gay you must be doing something about it and that’s a sin!”
I got kicked out of the church and I lost every friend I had because before that I wasn’t allowed to be friends with anyone who wasn’t Christian, or even liberal Christian because they weren’t seen as true Christians. So I ended up losing them all overnight.
It would have been fine if they actually let me go, but I then got letters for the next 18 months from people in the congregation telling me I was getting in the way of their relationship with God.
I had people turn up and bang on the door of the house I was staying at, march in and search the house just to check that my bedroom was separate from the other guy living there.
Back to what started it all, that guy I met was the first guy that I dated. He was 22 years older than me and we spent the next 17 years together. I still had that belief that I was going to hell but if I settled down with one person, at least when I died I could say to God, “alright I was gay, I was having sex with a man, but at least it was just one.”
I said I wouldn’t have any kind of sexual experience with him until we had made a commitment to spend our lives together. He got me a ring and put it on my finger before we even had sex. I ended up going back to the jewellers to get it resized and it turns out it was one of a pair, so I emptied out all my savings and spent every penny I had to get the other one, in fact I didn’t have enough. When the shop realised that was all the money I had in the world, they wanted the pair of rings to stay together so they let it go and I gave it to him.
London Pride Parade - Aged 27
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When I ended up having my first sexual experience it was awful because I thought I was going to burn in hell for all eternity. There were overwhelming feelings of shame and condemnation.The act itself was a dreadful fumble, I’m really embarrassed about it.
There were several years that we were monogamous and I didn’t realise the pressure that was putting on him. He was my sole source of information about sex. There was no internet or mobile phones back then, no access to any sex education outside of making babies. After several years we gradually opened up our relationship and the very first night I had sex with somebody else, I came back and showed him something new.His eyes widened and I realised that we were more balanced as a couple and he no longer had the responsibility of my sex education.
That experience felt right and made me reconsider the viewpoint that open relationships are a bad thing. Before the internet, there was no other way of learning except from other people. If you’re just with one person that’s a huge burden on them so to actually go and get some training was nice. We had a set of rules that helped govern our open relationship.
1) ‘You can see people as many times as you like, as long as you don’t need to see them.’ When you start needing to see them, you stop.
2) ‘Sex was fine but romance was not.’ No candlelit meals, no moonlit walks.
3) ‘Don’t play with people the first few years of their relationship whether they’re asking for something or not.’
4) ‘Whoever you’re playing with must be honest, if they’re caught in a lie, back away.’ If there was any chance they were lying about their lifestyle or whether they had a partner, it wasn’t happening. We didn’t want anyone to be lying to us or their partner.
5) ‘Whoever you play with has to do the aftercare.’ You don’t come home to your partner and expect them to do the aftercare for a scene you’ve just had. If you need any physical or psychological looking after, you deal with that with whoever created it together.
6) ‘You have to tell each other as soon as possible after it happened, preferably before.’ This wasn’t so much because you’re keeping tabs on each other, you just didn’t want to end up in a bar and someone comes up to you and says, “I’ve had your partner,” and you didn’t know. It’s all about protecting each other.
7) The last rule was about always being safe. Play safe in terms of letting someone know where you’re going, be aware of the risks involved in different kinds of kinky sex, and assume everyone has every STI that’s out there. If you’re change how you play because someone tells you they have Hepatitis, for example, then you’re not being very safe to begin with. Lots of people with HIV and other infections don’t know it, so it’s best to assume everyone has everything and then you’re not taking unnecessary risks – or treating anyone differently because of what they’ve told you.
When I talk about playing safe, it also refers to other things. For example there was one guy who had nearly drowned as a kid. If you put your hand over his mouth, he’d be a blubbering wreck because it brought him back to being under water. When you’re looking out for someone, you have to look out for the whole of them and make sure whatever happens they end up feeling better about themselves after you’ve spent time together.
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I don’t like regular vanilla sex. I have never liked touchy, feely, smiley, happy, loving or tender. Nothing annoys me more than being lightly stroked. If you’re going to touch me, do it properly. Preferably with marks to show for it the next day!
I’ve never been turned on by professionally made porn. It’s always seems to be the same: long-shaped object entering a hole. I think all porn could be improved with the application of a little bit of jam … and the threat of bees.
For me to get hard, somebody in the room needs to be feeling fear or pain, whether it’s me or somebody else.
My predominant sexuality is kinky rather than gay. I spent time in gay bars but I just didn’t fit in with the whole hot pants go-go dancing hands in the air like we just don’t care kind of thing. I need somewhere with a bit of gruff, a bit of thud, some bruising, and (if it’s legal) maybe a stun gun.
I really struggled with vanilla because it just didn’t do anything for me. My first boyfriend gave me a gay magazine and asked me to flick through it. Gay press is terrible, as if anyone who is over 30 is not attractive. There would be maybe one token picture of a guy who’s possibly 33 in a gay magazine, but otherwise they’re all under 30. I’ve never knowingly had sex with somebody under 35 or under a 35-inch waist. I want them big and roughty-toughty, otherwise they’ll snap with the stuff I want to do. I need someone who’s been around the block and knows that they want and is big enough to take it. So I flicked through this whole magazine and when I got to the very back page, there was an advert image of a body builder in little leather shorts for a leather shop in London called Zipper Store.
My boyfriend at the time asked me whether I liked the person or what he was wearing. I said it was what he was wearing.
He took me to my first leather shop and got me my first piece of leather. I got hard immediately.
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When you’re playing in a kinky scene there are usually five stages involved. A scene isn’t necessarily sexual, but it’s fun. The first stage is negotiation. I don’t mean negotiation in terms of what their HIV status is, we should always playing safe regardless. I would want to know how experienced you are because that will colour how I hear your answers. If you tell me you’ve got no limits and you’ve been playing for 20 years, I might believe you. However, if you tell me you’ve got no limits and you’re a complete newbie, I’d probably think you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I would want to know whether you’ve got any health issues because if you’ve got a bad back, I wouldn’t hog tie you. If you’ve got impaired lung function, I’m not going to cover your mouth or restrict your breathing. If you’ve got diabetes, I’m going to be prepared to check your blood sugar throughout the scene because I don’t want you going into a coma. If you’re a haemophiliac, I’m not going to hit or strike you in any way that may cause you to bleed to death.
Kinky people tend to be quite self aware and negotiation up front is important. I’d rather know all this information straight away in the beginning then have to stop a scene in order to re-negotiate.
Stage two is the warm up. I did a scene once with this guy who hooded me and then he gut punched me in the stomach. I wasn’t warmed up at all and I hadn’t braced my abdominals. The scene ended there and then because I wasn’t ready and being punched like that made me feel sick. Warm up is important to get someone in the mood, it’s like the foothills before the mountain climb. If they’re into puppy play, it could be as simple as scratching them behind the ear to get them into puppy headspace before you get them down on the floor in full puppy mode.
Stage three is increasing intensity to the culmination of whatever you think is going. It doesn’t have to be an orgasm. Often in kinky sex if someone is in extreme pain they won’t even have a hard on. It could be an interrogation and the scene is over when they give you the information you were asking for.
The next stage is the warm down. It’s the stage where you take care of their immediate needs. If you have been engaging in heavy flogging, they might need a blanket. If the scene was quite exerting, they might need sugar. Quite often, even non-diabetics will need chocolate or a fizzy drink immediately after. If they’ve been tied up for a long period, they may need their wrists and ankles rubbed down before they stand up or they will fall over immediately.
The final stage is the aftercare which is just checking in with them an hour later, two days later, a week later – are they okay? Someone could leave your house absolutely fine, but have nightmares two days later and wonder “did I consent to that?” Even if a scene was successful, say you’d managed to confront a phobia, that could lead to them questioning other assumptions about their lives.
Not every scene has to have all five stages. If someone has agreed to a scene that’s meant to be a surprise you’ll probably skip the warm up and go straight for the shock start. But it’s good to know the rules before you break them!
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Sometimes you end up encountering a land mine you didn’t know was there. There was one scene I did in America where a guy was dragging a needle across my body and then with the blood was doing a painting on me. It could seem as extreme as it was blood-letting but it was only scratching capillaries on the surface, it didn’t hurt and it was a very sensual thing between us. At one point I was transported from that scene back to 1993 when I had meningitis and the way they diagnosed it when I reached the hospital was they did a scrape of the rash and it was quite painful. Suddenly in the middle of this scene, I time travelled and the guy with the needle was the doctor doing the scrape and the other person watching became the nurse. They could tell I was no longer in this place and time and I was re-living a memory. They could see I was responding differently now and something was wrong.
If someone hits a mental land mine during a scene, you should get them to look at something in the present. Usually get them to look out of a window to see the sky or daylight, then talk them round gently back into this time and space.
If someone is gagged, un-gag them, or if someone has a hood over their head, take the hood off so they can see. I remember all of it, including the time travel and completely believing I was back in hospital. The guy who was doing the scene with me was experienced and knew what he was doing. We were in a tent and he lifted the side of a tent so I could see the sky and talked me back to what we were doing right then. This needed to be done before they untied me because if you untie whilst they’re in the middle of a mental land mine they could strike you, incapacitate you, release themselves and run off without being in a safe state of mind.
If you’re doing SM and you hit a mental land mine, switch straight to after care whatever stage you are currently in. The success of a scene is whether they have increased in self confidence or increased in self esteem. If you get the aftercare right you can still make someone feel good, even if the scene itself did not reach the goal you’d set out for.
One of the difficulties if you’re new to the community is knowing the difference between an abusive relationship and an SM relationship. Sometimes it takes an outsider to come along and tell you they’re not treating you badly in the “right” way. A good sign is that you feel aftercare has been done appropriately, and a warning scene is that you’re never sure if the aftercare was done at all.
As part of my work as ‘International Mr Leather’, I gave talks to anti-violence help lines. It can be hard to make the distinction if someone is in a kinky relationship because often they want to be hurt or humiliated. One of the signs of a healthy relationship is that through the play their self-esteem and confidence is improved, and in an unhealthy relationship there’s a feeling of being violated, a lack of aftercare and you’re not sure where scenes begin and end.
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I’m currently engaged to be married to a great big delicious bear, back home in London who is gorgeous. We are monogamous because I want this relationship to be different from the last one. The last one was open and civil partnered, this one’s going to be married and monogamous which is right for us.
He’s three foot wide and pulls fire engines as a hobby. When I first met him I didn’t know what to do with somebody that big. I was attracted to him but I didn’t have the skills. I then won International Mr Leather in 2003 and I went around the world learning all kinds of things. When I came back I wanted to show him what I had learnt but he had gone offline for a few years and his profile came back in 2006. Within 18 hours I’d messaged him, “we need to meet, I know what to do with you now!”
It started off as us being friends where he was a collared boy and I was his Sir. Over time the friendship grew and we actually became really good friends. We moved in together three years ago and I proposed last year.
Finally married my Panda (2015)
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The kink community have absolutely nailed the concept of consent as a moment by moment gift. It’s why we have safe words and play spaces have dungeon monitors. Anyone can stop what’s happening at any time and there’s no bad feelings.
I get upset every time I hear a judge let a rapist free saying the victim was asking for it by how they were dressed or how many drinks they’d had. It’s really simple: if someone is drunk, or asleep, or says no, or safe words – or you’re just not sure about it – YOU DON’T HAVE SEX WITH THEM!
At any point in SM play, anyone can stop it. That is a gift we can give to the rest of the world. Consent means you don’t have to do anything you don’t want – and it also means you can ask for what you do want between consenting adults and no one can make you feel bad about that either.
I was born in Watford, just outside London, and spent the first 17 years of my life there.
Won the 25th International Mr. Leather Title in Chicago