01/14/2014 06:35 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

'Would You Have Sex With a Guy If You Knew He Was HIV-Positive?'

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As a gay sex advice columnist I'm often asked about my own sexual habits, which I mercifully decline to answer. But I'm making this one exception because a reader thought I was being hypocritical.

"It's so easy for you to pass judgment on people who refuse to sleep with HIV+ guys," he said. "You've been adamant that man-to-man oral sex will not lead to infection. Well, if you're so sure about it answer me this: Would you have oral sex with a guy that you KNEW was HIV positive?"

I have to admit I've agonized over this question because it forces me to reconcile my professional answers with my personal behavior. Sometimes the two don't match, though not because I'm hypocritical but because I'm human. I have done some very stupid, unsafe things, and that is exactly why people listen to me, because I aspire to progress without pretending to be perfect.

Professionally, I know I have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than getting hit by an infection if I did the oral deed with a poz guy, but personally, would I do it? I can't answer, because it's an unfair question. I don't do hypotheticals unless I'm given real-world situations.

For example, did I just meet him or have I known him for a while? Is it a one-night stand or the fourth date? Is he OK-looking, or is he so hot that wilted flowers stand at attention when he walks by? Like any thinking man, I take into consideration a constellation of factors before I dive into bed with anyone. Every gay man should have a personal blueprint for deciding what to do when they meet a poz guy they're attracted to. Here's mine:

I Just Met Him and Know It Will Be a One-Night Stand:
  • No, I would not go south on him.
  • Yes, I would go home with him. I'd rather make out with a hottie than go home alone and make my dog nervous.
  • Yes, I would let him go south (as long as I checked and made sure I didn't have any cuts or scratches).
We've Gone Out Several Times, and I'm Really Starting to Like Him:
  • Yes, I would go south, but not without knowing his status (is he on meds, and is his viral load undetectable?) and checking for blisters, cuts or scratches in my mouth. I also wouldn't brush my teeth for a few hours beforehand. That would put my risk of infection at about, oh, zero.

Figuring out a code of personal behavior against the backdrop of this disease isn't easy. It's like dieting: If you're too restrictive, you'll end up binging and getting fatter, but if you're too permissive, you'll never lose weight. Here's one last tip: Don't go home with anybody without asking them their status. You can up the odds of getting an honest answer if you preface it with something like, "It's not going to make a difference whether I go home with you or not, but I'd like to know your status."

Michael Alvear is the author of How to Bottom Like a Porn Star: The Ultimate Guide to Gay Sex.