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“One of the light bulb moments we had as we were designing this feature was that it’s now 2016 and we need to not be ashamed of sex or of sexual behaviours,” says Silverberg.“Especially in the US [where there is] a puritanical attitude toward sex, and [so we thought] part of what we can do is to normalise conversations about sexual safety practices because we think that’s going to make our community stronger, less judgmental, and safer.”Skandros also sees this as an opportunity to inform the uninformed, and in particular young men whose schoolteachers are unlikely to have given a blow-by-blow explanation of Pr EP and Tas P.“We are big proponents of Pr EP,” says Skandros. There is a momentary pause.“I will tell you I’ve been on Pr EP for a year and a half and for me it’s another layer of protection and it’s opened up my sex life…” He starts to laugh, as who-knows-what sexual memories are projecting onto his retinas.
“…many ways that…before Pr EP was….” Skandros swerves away from specifics before deciding on, “It’s given me a lot more confidence.”He stops again and looks up.“This is something I’ve never spoken about before. Especially in New York I feel like we’re in a sexual revolution because of Pr EP and I’m just seeing within my circle of friends and other gay men there’s this confidence and barrier that’s been broken down because of Pr EP.
But Silverberg continues carefully, seemingly not irked that these questions are posed but interested in examining his thought processes – up to a point.“Outside of your sexual partner, boyfriend, or husband, yes I think it’s good and right to see our assumptions challenged, our biases challenged, and certainly in the public sphere and the workplace,” he says.
“But when it comes to the very personal choice of who you’re partnered with it’s something we leave to our members.”Why, asks Buzz Feed News, should that be viewed as separate or different?
Should, therefore, a hookup app that prides itself on inclusivity facilitate this?
We don’t tolerate it and any reports of bullying or harassment are investigated by Scruff support staff members within 48 hours.”Silverberg echoes this: “We really try to ensure that Scruff remains a safe space, so people are free to express preferences but not free to use language that in any way takes away from that feeling of Scruff being a safe space.”So Scruff would police profiles that said something explicitly offensive about a particular race, but if someone said, “I prefer Asian guys” that would be OK? “If someone is writing something on their profile with a hostile intention, regardless of the exact language, that will be investigated and may cause the profile to be suspended.Profiles also convey what members are looking for – some use this to express an apparent racial “preference”. Journalists and bloggers have reported and campaigned against it – a bubbling cry against a backdrop of shrugs, of people saying that supposed preference is innate, instinctive, and thus beyond society – outside of racism.Anger, concern, and fears about sexual racism infecting both online dating and hookup apps have been brimming for years. So when Silverberg and Skandros beam into Buzz Feed News’ London office via Skype from New York, sitting side-by-side like plucky You Tubers, it isn’t long before the subject arises.Along with race, how people treat HIV-positive people on dating apps has come under increasing scrutiny.Scruff has approached this by creating a “poz” community, as well as an up-front profile box in which people can state their preferred sexual safety practices: condoms; Pr EP (taking the drug Truvada, which prevents HIV infection); or Treatment as Prevent (Tas P), where HIV-positive men are effectively uninfectious thanks to antiretroviral medication, which makes the levels of virus in the blood so low as to be “undetectable”.