Day and night, guys cruise and hook up safely online; that's how it is and an intrinsic part of how we connect today. Add up the times you've met a man like this and the rule of thumb is that nothing goes 'wrong.' If it does, do we say so or just chalk it up to experience?
Friends don't always mention bad experiences, and if it has happened to them then statistically it's less likely to happen to you (or so you've rationalised in your head). So, while personal safety is an issue, do we afford it the attention it deserves?
- Who hasn't picked up in a club and taken him back to yours, or you've gone to his, without telling anyone?
- Who hasn't accepted a drink (or drugs, for that matter) from somebody you don't really know?
- And when was the last time you gave some serious thought about your personal safety online, or on the scene?
Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted
We tend to find the right frame of mind to make changes only when something hurts or damages us, or goes terribly wrong. These are experiences from which we should learn because, for some gay men, a meet or date has resulted in tragic consequences.
Getting to know guys, meeting men, and having sex should be fun, and for the most part it is. And collectively we're pretty good at looking out for each other on the scene, whether we go out with friends, meet them there... and we're always messaging each other (drivel mostly). However, meeting guys online is more solitary: we surf, chat, swap info, and within an instant a stranger is standing at the door.
Today we can meet more men in less time than ever before: an online smörgåsbord of men just a few clicks away. And powerful drugs like GHB, crystal meth, mephedrone, and ketamine make it so much easier to make rubbish decisions, and for other men to do things to us without our knowledge or consent. And for those of you turning your noses up because you don't take 'those' sorts of drugs, we are also talking about alcohol and the litany of other easily available recreational drugs.
Finding middle ground
Writing this section on personal safety has been a little depressing as it seems to be packed with negatives and warnings. And, if you were to adhere to all our tips there's a pretty good chance you'll come across as weird and never get laid. So, here's our best analogy for some middle ground:
- You want to cross a road but the pedestrian light is red
- You look left and right for traffic, but there's none as far as you can see
- So, making an informed decision, or judgement call, you cross the road
- More often than not you get across safely... but you might get clipped by that cyclist or flattened by the car you just didn't see
Whether you use them, mix and match, or ignore them, it's your choice but do read them:
- If you're cruising with your dick, don't forget to engage the brain
- Keep your personal information personal
- Use the anonymity that web apps provide
- Check that GPS location settings are what you want
- Hate crime happens so be vigilant, and report it
- Tell a friend where you are going
- Consider getting a second phone for cruising
- Are his photos recent?
- Are your pics OK if they were shared publicly?
- Think about what he's after
- Consider speaking before you meet
- Meet in a public place
- Get safe transport to/ from your destination
- Always carry condoms and lubricant with you
- Be aware that drinks can be spiked
- Know what to do if you have been assaulted or had non-consensual sex
- Trust your instincts, trust your gut
- Keep personal belongings safe
Share and discuss
The trick is to find a balance between who you are - remaining open, interesting and attractive to others - while maintaining your personal safety. But don't just read the stuff here: share, discuss and argue with a mate. You don't have to be alone in reaching informed decisions about your personal safety, and you'll be surprised how similar our experiences and concerns are.
Our tips are not exhaustive and are rarely foolproof. While this section is geared towards personal safety online, we also have sections on:
The Havens | 020 3299 6900
The Havens can help you if you have been sexually assaulted or had non-consensual sex in the past 12 months. You can call them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an initial assessment. When they need to see you urgently, such as for a forensic medical examination (FME), they aim to see you within 90 minutes. They also offer follow-up care, including counselling, tests and treatments. Its medical and emotional support services are confidential. That means it will not tell anyone you have contacted or come to see them unless you want them to. And you can use any of their services without involving the police.
The Havens has 3 centres in London:
Camberwell Haven, near to King’s College Hospital (South)
Whitechapel Haven, near to Royal London Hospital (East)
Paddington Haven, near to St Mary’s Hospital (West)
Keep your personal information personal
When chatting online and things are going well we can use our personal information as currency, as a way of validating the connection we think we're making and reassuring him we're interested.
- You type "come to mine" and give him your address
- You say "let's chat" and give him your mobile number
- He seems really 'nice' so you give him your full name
- He asks you what you do so you tell him where you work
- He finds you on Facebook and wants to be your friend
This is understandable, but exercise some caution until you are certain that you want to take things further. Many online conversations start but never go anywhere, by which time he has information about you. Chances are he'll do nothing, but he may have enough to cause problems.
Use the anonymity that web apps provide
Rather than feel obliged to give out your mobile number, why not actually use the anonymity that web apps provide, using them as your primary method of communicating with guys. Meets can be arranged with messaging, copies of which are stored on web app providers' servers should problems arise.
Smart phones use GPS technology to locate your position and apps in relation to other guys locally. Granted this is kinda the point, but check the settings to suit your needs and the level of privacy you want.
A second phone for cruising
We've chatted a lot at MEN R US about having a second 'trick 'or 'burner' phone to keep your personal and play lives separate. While this seems to have some traction in the States, we've quickly reached the conclusion it's not going to happen here. Anyway, we've told you about it.
Most phones today allow you to block a number from the handset if you want to. But if you're getting serious ongoing hassle you may have to get a new number. It's a lesson learned, and a royal pain in the arse to inform friends, family, utilities, bank...
Are his photos recent?
If you think his pics are not genuine, photo-shopped or just too good to be true, then maybe they are. If you ask for more pics and he declines then maybe it's best to end the chat politely.
This is a tricky one, particularly if you lack that little extra confidence but, if after meeting he doesn't look like his pics in the flesh, don't be afraid to end things and walk away. You do have a choice, so don't allow yourself to feel compelled, obliged or pressured to be there and have the sex.
Are your pics OK if they were shared publicly?
Sending guys a pic of you standing on a beach is one thing, sending him one of you in an intimate family photo, or having graphic sex may come back to haunt you. They can be used to track you via face recognition on some social media or, worst case scenario, to blackmail you. Consider sending only face and/ or torso shots.
To put it another way: check out your horniest sexiest 'dirtiest' pic and ask yourself if you would mind your employer, co-workers, family and friends, or granny seeing it.
There have been cases of web apps being used to target LGBT+ people in hate crime. This includes people pretending to be LGBT+ people who then bully, intimidate, menace, and threaten to share personal information, pics and videos.
All web apps that we have researched have functions and/ or settings to block and/ or report this behaviour, though you may need to create a new profile if the harassment persists.
If you have received threats from someone who knows you, where you live, or where you work, consider reporting this to the police.
And learn how you can take and save a 'screen grab' or 'screen print' so you you have a visual record of any abuse or threats.
There have also been instances of supposed meets or dates being used as opportunities to assault and rob. Be vigilant!
Think about what he's after...
Be mindful about what he wants. If he wants you to party, that may mean he's looking to use recreational drugs; if he's only top maybe he only wants to dominate you; and if he insists on coming to your place maybe he has a partner (even though he says he's single). Maybe this is exactly what you've signed up for, but ask yourself if this is what you really want the first time with a stranger.
Consider speaking before you meet
Our preference is that you use your web app facilities to arrange everything during the early stages of getting to know someone after which time you can decide whether you want to give out your number.
However, if you choose to use your phone you can usually get a better feel for a guy, over and above what you see online, by chatting on the phone. It doesn't have to a long conversation but it should give you a better idea as to whether he is high, and whether there's still a connection and you feel comfortable.
If he doesn't want to speak before you meet this may be a warning sign, although some guys find it much easier to chat in person, getting nervous or tongue-tied on the phone.
BTW: Most phones today allow you to block a number from the handset if you need to.
Tell a friend where you are going
More experienced guys tend not to do this, but consider letting a reliable friend know where you’re going and when they can expect to hear from you. A simple text message might read:
- Shag alert: call me in 2 hours, or
- Shag alert: call me at 11pm
The more information you give a friend the more they will have to go on if something goes wrong; eg: a name, phone number, a profile name (even a pic he's using). Or consider using your smart phone to share your location with a friend.
This may seem like common sense advice, but it can be difficult to share intimate shagging details even with our closest mates. It can also be a faff to send a 1st message before the meet, and a 2nd after the meet (at the right time, regardless of how things went).
Meet in a public place
While meeting a guy in a public place is an ideal, circumstances often don't make this easy if you are just meeting for a (quick) shag. Perhaps it's night time and/ or one of you has already agreed to go to the other's flat.
If you can meet in a public place, do so, but if you are going to an address you've not been to before then this is one of those instances when you should seriously think about sending a text to a friend.
Meeting in a neutral public place gives you greater control over the meet and helps ensure that no one has an unfair advantage. Having guys coming to your home or meeting in a guy's flat immediately gives you less control, and you lose much of that power.
Get safe transport to/ from your destination
Arrange your own safe transportation to and from the meet/ date or be very cautious about allowing a stranger to pick you up in his car and take you to what is likely to be an undisclosed location.
Make sure you set out with enough money to get home, whether by public transport or taxi. Even if you just end up walking away from the meet you have so much more control.
It's the stuff of legend, but many guys have gone to a place, decided not to go through with it, then found themselves in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Sometimes the quickest and best thing to do is jump in a cab and just get home!
Be aware that drinks can be spiked
If you go to a guy's flat then it's likely you'll be offered something to drink, eat even. If you are happy to do this then go ahead, otherwise the safest and easiest response is "No thanks, I'm good." If you do accept a drink, and haven't seen it being made, take small sips and see how it goes.
You need to be mindful that sometimes drinks are spiked with drugs like GHB or Rohypnol, and these can put you at a severe disadvantage, and at risk of sexual assault and/ or rape, and/ or make you very ill.
Some guys do this to try and relax you and improve the mood, rather than necessarily to take advantage of you. Nevertheless, this is non-consensual, this is wrong, and it is illegal. Granted, this advice may seem counter-intuitive given you've gone to meet somebody to have a good time, but bad things can and do happen.
If you're hosting, one of the things you can do to reassure a guest is give them an unopened can of beer/ bottle of water, or open a bottle of wine in front of them. You get the drift.
Know what to do if you have been assaulted or had non-consensual sex
If you have been assaulted or had non-consensual sex
- Get somewhere safe as soon as possible
- Ask for help from someone you trust
- Call the police in an emergency
Consider going to the nearest accident and emergency department, the Havens (in London), or a police station asking for a LGBT liaison officer.
If you don't feel you can do any of this, consider calling a helpline. Whether it's a few hours, days, weeks, or months later, the vital thing is that you do something and find help and support.
Trust your instincts, trust your gut
Sometimes we can't put our finger on it, but we are pretty intuitive creatures. If something feels wrong or weird then it probably is. And if you are concerned in any way about your personal safety, or you are asked to do things you don't want to do, then this is not a person you should be with. You should leave as quickly as possible in a way that puts you in the least amount of danger.
Trouble is that if you are high on drugs your judgement and your ability to pick up on warning signs can be greatly impaired. You're much more likely to waltz into a bear pit, and a whole heap of mess. And it's not just drugs or alcohol we're talking about here; even without them, we can make surprisingly rubbish decisions when we are horny as hell and desperate for that shag.
Condoms and lube
Discuss and agree the kind of sex you're going to have before you meet; whether it's protected or unprotected sex, for example. And we suggest you always carry with you condoms and lubricant.
Keep personal belongings safe
When heading off for a meet or date most of us take a bag of some description. No harm in this, but take only what you need and try not to leave your belongings unattended (eg: while you're in the loo) as it might provide the opportunity for someone to have a dig around and retrieve personal information, your wallet, even your phone.
Protect yourself and if in doubt "Run!"
If you are a shorter guy into muscle daddies be aware that there are potential physical disadvantages. That's not to say there are not skinny short-arses with the aggression of a Jack Russell, along with bears who are in a fixed state of hibernation. Sometimes opposites attract - who says we're not multi-layered and complex?!
If you think this is an issue for you, consider joining a self defence class, a boxing club, or getting fitter generally, just in case the need arises to "Run!" (in the words of Dr Who).
Anonymous 'open door' encounters
Some guys get off on the anonymity of meeting total strangers, but this is the most dangerous thing you can do.
If your idea of heaven is having your head buried in the pillow with the door unlocked, waiting for guys to slip into your flat and plough your hole, then you need to seriously think about getting over this turn-on now. There is very little wiggle room on this one as you are putting yourself at tremendous risk.
Granted, it can be immensely difficult weaning yourself off something which really turns you on but (if this is it) we strongly advise you talk it through with a trusted friend, a counsellor, or phone Switchboard - even if it's just to clarify in your own mind that this is what you want, the risks you are taking, and the reasons behind it.