The Steam Room is broadcast on GaySA Radio every Wednesday from 19:00 to 21:00, and is brought to you by the National Department of Health’s Phila programme.

The Phila programme encourages all South Africans to be inspired to live, and is about keeping fit, knowing about your health and body, eating well and taking action about your health in general.

Episode 3 of The Steam Room focuses on another part of the MSM demographic: After-nines.

We spoke to Bruce Little, Content Creator at the Anova Health Institute, to find out more about After-nines.

What is an After-nine?

“After-nine” is a slang term for a man that is generally known to be, or identifies as heterosexual, but will visit certain venues or people after 9 o’clock in the evening to engage in sexual experiences with other men.

Why do people have sex like this?

Even in a time where people are believed to be more enlightened and accepting, society still tends to be critical of gay and bisexual men, and there is still quite a bit of stigma attached to being gay or engaging in homosexual acts. This is why some men prefer to hide this identity from their communities and families.

Even so, Little says that men sometimes engage in clandestine sexual activity because of the taboo associated with it, which adds an element of excitement to the sexual activity, making it more enticing.

How prevalent is this phenomenon?

It is very difficult to gauge exact numbers, as these people don’t want to be identified or found out, but we do know that After-nines exist from the secondary evidence given by the gay and bisexual men who engage in sex acts with them.

Do After-nines face more stigma than the general MSM population?

One could argue that After-nines do not face the amount of discrimination associated with homo- or bisexuality because their communities generally do not know that they engage in sexual activity with other men. To society, these men may appear heteronormative, as they are often married and have children, fitting the profile of a heterosexual person. However, After-nines are sometimes scorned by the LGBTQ community, because of their decision not to come out.

What health issues could After-nines face?

Like all men who have sex with men, and because of the higher risk profile of anal sex, After-nines have a higher risk of HIV infection and transmission, as well as infection and transmission of other STIs like syphilis and gonorrhoea. After-nines should take extra care and always make use of condoms and water-based lube when engaging in sexual activity.

This group’s hidden existence means that they often do not access health services tailored for and aimed at men who have sex with men. This makes it exceptionally hard for healthcare providers to reach After-nines and supply them with information and treatment.

STIs and the psychological impact of being an After-nine

Paula Quinsee, relationship expert, TEDx speaker and the author of Embracing Conflict emphasises that After-nines have a personal responsibility to practice safe sex to protect themselves and their partner(s) against HIV and other STIs like chlamydia, syphilis, pubic lice and herpes.

Practicing safe sex means taking every possible precaution when engagaing in sexual activities with other men, including condoms, water-based lubricants and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Knowing your status is extremely important, and Quinsee advises that After-nines get tested for HIV and other STIs at least every six months, and on a monthly basis if you are a person who is very active sexually.

Bruce Little from the Anova Health Institute says that there is often a big psychological impact on After-nines as well. Like anyone who is in the closet, After-nines frequently experience a sense of isolation and loneliness, because of the heavy burden of the secret they are hiding.

“Everyone you know doesn’t really know you, and one cannot help but wonder, do these people really love me?” says Little. The fear of being discovered and exposed is ever-present, and may have a significant psychological effect on After-nines.

Little advises that After-nines go online and educate themselves about the health and psychological consequences that being a man who has sex with men may have. Visiting websites like We the Brave and Health4men will provide all the necessary information about safe sex, HIV and other STIs. Little draws attention to the fact that many people do have STIs, but are asymptomatic, rendering the infections invisible to the naked eye, although they can still be transmitted. Knowledge is power, and being educated about all the risks will hopefully make the risk of infection smaller, which does a lot in terms of minimising feelings of shame and insecurity.

In terms of coming out, Little says that a decision to be open about one’s sexuality does sometimes come with the risk of discrimination based on religious or cultural beliefs, which can sometimes come with the additional danger of assaults or attacks. Should you decide to come out, it is important to ensure that you are in an environment that is safe and where you can take care of yourself.

Of course, there’s always another party involved other than the After-nine and their sexual partner(s), and wives or partners who suspect that their significant other may be engaging in sexual activity with other people should also take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. This includes insisting on the use of condoms when having sex and taking PrEP as a precautionary measure.

The emotional toll that being an After-nine has could also extend to the spouses and partners of a person, but Little believes that transparency and honesty is the key to having a well-rounded life. Additional measures like the use of all possible cautionary measures – condoms, lube, PrEP and/or antiretroviral medication – are indispensable to protect everyone involved.

Who to contact

If you are based in Pretoria and surrounds, and would like to discreetly access healthcare services aimed specifically at men who have sex with men, you can contact OUT, a professional service organisation focusing on direct health and mental health services, research, mainstreaming and advocacy for Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. All services are provided free of charge.

Click on the player below to listen to our full discussion about After-nines on Episode 3 of the Steam Room, brought to you by the National Department of Health’s Phila programme.