Friday, July 16, 2010

What does “clean” mean?

“Clean”, when used in an online profile, can have two meanings.  Neither of them is “freshly showered”.

(Former) Drug Use

“Clean” is often used as part of the phrase “clean and sober”, referencing being in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.  Used by itself, it will typically only be in reference to drug abuse (meth, heroin, cocaine, etc.), not alcohol use.  It typically is not used in regard to tobacco and marijuana (although there will be exceptions).

Of course, the only people who use the term in this way are those who are actively in recovery (or those whose lives have been so touched by drug abuse that they are part of that community by proxy, and use the terminology).  Which means that someone using “clean” in their profile this way has had a past issue with drug use; those who have no had an issue generally see no need to use the term.

(Drug and alcohol abuse and recovery are a much deeper subject than I’m covering here.  Please excuse glossing over of the details in this post.  I don’t intend to shortchange the struggles involved, but neither is it appropriate to hijack this post to delve into those details.)

(Lack of) Sexually Transmitted Diseases

The other use of “clean” is with regard to STDs, as in “clean bill of health”.  The implication here is that the individual has had a recent health screening and no STDs were found, including not just HIV but also hepatitis, HPV (venereal/anal warts), gonorrhea, and so forth.

Truth and Accuracy

As ever, what people say in their profiles and what is actually true are different things:
  • Profiles may get out of date, so what was true may be months old
  • Guys may have had an HIV test but not a screening for other STDs
  • Some guys will list what they believe to be true, with no actual knowledge
  • Some guys will lie, especially if they think they will get laid
  • Recovery is a long (perhaps never ending) process, so “clean” is really “clean since date X”
  • Some guys relapse, going in and out of recovery
How can you tell which usage is in effect?  You’ll have to read between the lines and perhaps engage the person in direct conversation.  Look for references to drug and alcohol use, to sexual preferences, and to the person’s involvement in the community.  (Or just come out and ask.)

As always, without assuming that anyone is actively lying, always assume the minimum: that what is in someone’s profile is what they believed was correct when they wrote it, but may not be correct now.  Use the presence of the codeword to start a conversation, not to avoid one.

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