GMFA How to survive a darkroom WARNING: This article is part of GMFA - the sexual wellbeing project for gay, bi and trans men who have sex with men - brought to you by LGBT HERO. This article is intended for a mature audience and may contain language and references that are not suitable for younger readers of LGBT HERO. Please do not continue if you are easily offended or shocked. LGBT HERO tries to provide advice and support for all LGBTQ+ people of all ages. For more info about GMFA and what we provide through this service visit www.lgbthero.org.uk/gmfa. Darkrooms or backrooms are cruising mazes that are found in some venues. Their main purpose is to provide party goers with a place to have sex. They can be very hot if you have an exhibitionist streak or enjoy group play but they can also be dangerous especially when drugs and alcohol are involved. Mike is 21 and from Liverpool. He likes to go to a darkroom at his local gay bar. “I just love it; it makes me feel like I’m in a porn movie. I can either focus on one guy at a time or I can be part of a crowd. I love it when I’m on my knees sucking two guys off at the same time. It’s so horny. Many of my friends think I’m mad for going to one but I don’t care.” Simon is 36 and from Middlesbrough. He told us that he and his partner have used them to spice up their sex lives. “I’ve been with my boyfriend for six years now. We started off in a monogamous relationship. But after six years the sex becomes boring and stale. We knew that either we had to do something or one of us was bound to cheat at some point, so one weekend we were down in London and decided to try one. We mainly played together but I allowed my boyfriend to be with someone while I watched. It was difficult at first but you get used to it. As long as we both follow the rules we’ve set then there is no harm. It brought a new dimension to our relationship.” But it’s not for everyone. Pedro is 26 and originally from Italy. He says, “I got drunk one night and knew the club we were in had a darkroom. I was horny and decided to go in. At first I was amazed at all these guys sucking and fucking in one room. I got involved but because I had so much to drink I ended up have sex with a guy without a condom. I woke up the next day feeling guilty and had to wait nearly two months before I could tell I was HIV-negative. Luckily my tests came back negative but I realise that I cannot trust myself to make wise decisions when I’m drunk. I’ve vowed not to go back. Liam is 28 and originally from Ireland, now living in London. He told us he’s not out, doesn’t want to go to gay bars and uses darkrooms for safety. “I know, I know. How can you be in the closet in London? But I am. It just hasn’t felt the right time to come out. I live with my brother here in London and I can’t bring anyone home. He also gets suspicious if I stay out all night so I use darkrooms on a Friday night after work to fulfil my needs. I also feel a lot safer there as it’s dark and the chances of being spotted are slim. I try not to drink too much and make sure I leave at a decent time. It works for me.” Gordon is 31 and from Scotland. He says, “I’m a drug user who likes to have sex in darkrooms. My drug of choice is G (GHB). It makes me horny as hell and a darkroom provides the men to be horny with. Sometimes though I can take too much without knowing and do things I shouldn’t – like unprotected sex with lots of men. I’m now HIV-positive. I stayed away from darkrooms till I got the virus under control. I’m undetectable so it’s nearly impossible for me to pass it on. I still go to darkrooms but am a bit more cautious about my drug use.” Darkrooms may not be for everyone but they can be good for others. However they also have their drawbacks. Because of the link with alcohol many gay men do not think about personal safety, or their health. So if darkrooms are your thing or maybe you’d like to try one, here are some tips to help you survive a darkroom. STAY CLOSE TO LIGHT Most darkrooms will have an area that’s well lit. Stay in that space till you get your bearings of what’s actually going on. Once you feel confident then you can make your way into the crowd. TAKE BREAKS You enter a darkroom at midnight only for it suddenly to be 6am and you don’t know where the time went. Make sure you take some breaks from time to time. Even if it’s just to pee or get some water. Darkrooms can be hot and sweaty places so taking yourself away for a bit can help you recharge. DRINK WATER Many guys like to be drunk going into a darkroom. It allows them to do things they may not do without alcohol. However being seriously drunk can lead to doing things you may regret in the morning, passing out or even becoming dehydrated. It’s perfectly OK to take breaks and get more alcohol but also get some water from time to time. BE CAREFUL OF PICKPOCKETS Obviously if you are out in a club you are more likely to have your phone and wallet with you. Pickpockets know this and many will suck you off and steal your phone at the same time. The best way to stop this is: Be in control – don’t be too drunk. If you feel you are too drunk get some water before you go in. Open your wallet, place your wallet over your phone and put it in your front pocket. This makes your pocket bulky and you will be able to tell if someone tries to enter your pockets. Place your open jeans into your underwear – most of the time your pants may be down around your ankles leaving your pockets open to pickpockets. When you open your jeans, tuck the open part of your jeans into your underwear. This stops your jeans from falling. Do not trust anyone – pickpockets do not care if you have bills to pay and can’t afford a new phone. Don’t assume that just because this hot guy is sucking you off he won’t rob you. Report any robberies to management. Managers and door staff may not be able to do much about your stolen possessions but making them aware of what’s going on may help prevent future robberies. MULTIPLE PARTNERS MEANS MORE STIS In darkrooms the chances are you will have sex with lots of men. It may only be oral sex but every sex act increases the chances of picking up an STI, and many STIs can be transmitted through oral sex. It takes about three days for symptoms of an STI to appear, but it takes about ten days for an STI to show up in a test. If you regularly go to sex clubs/ darkrooms then make sure you get frequent tests for STIs and HIV. There is no shame if you do pick up an STI. It’s best to get it treated so you don’t pass it on to others. SEX IN DARKROOMS Most gay men who use darkrooms keep it oral only. However if you are interested in having sex in a darkroom make sure you have condoms and lube with you. Most bars that have darkrooms will supply condoms but this cannot be guaranteed so always carry some if you can. UNPROTECTED SEX PEP – We know most gay men use condoms most of the time. But accidents do happen. If you believe that you have put yourself at risk of HIV then PEP is a month-long course of tablets, which is available from your nearest GUM clinic or A&E department. PEP can stop you from becoming positive but you need to start taking it as soon as possible and definitely within 72 hours after unprotected sex. For more information on PEP, visit www.lgbthero.org.uk/pep. PrEP - If you are someone who engages in comdomless sex you may want to consider PrEP. When taken correctly, PrEP can prevent HIV transmission 99% of the time. You can take PrEP daily or on demand. Visit www.lgbthero.org.uk/prep for more info. HIV testing – No matter what type of sex you engage in, it is recommended that all sexually active men test for HIV and STIs at least once a year. If you engage in condomless sex on a frequent basis then you should test every few months. It takes roughly four weeks for HIV to show up in a test. HIV undetectable (U=U) - In today’s world, someone living with HIV, who is on medication, can have a normal life expectancy. If you are diagnosed as HIV-positive, the best thing you can do to stop the spread of HIV is to continue taking your medication. People living with HIV and on effective medication (undetectable) cannot pass on the virus to their partners through sex. For more information or to find a GUM clinic, visit www.lgbthero.org.uk/clinics.