Words by Ian Howley | @IanHowley

Are you as socially and sexually confident as you’d like? Not many gay men would answer “yes’’ to that question, but confidence is something we all need.

Why? Because confidence is related to self-esteem, and what you think of yourself or how you feel about your life is very important when it comes to your health and happiness. We sat down with Nick Baker, head of groupwork for GMFA, to talk about the upcoming new groupwork programme Building Your confidence.

Nick, tell us about ‘Building your confidence’.

Building your confidence is a one-day course run by GMFA, designed to help you improve your confidence using easily learnt practical skills. A lack of confidence in social and sexual situations can leave many gay men feeling unable to ask for what they want, or to say no to other people. Confidence isn’t something we are all born with, but it’s not a secret art either. Practical skills that are used on the course will enable you to start and maintain conversations, make and refuse requests, including talking about sex. All with confidence.

Who should attend this type of groupwork?

If you feel more is required of you than you are able to give when faced with a challenge, you are likely to feel less in control of your life. This can lead to feeling more anxious, more helpless and more stressed. If you’re worried about risks you take because you feel you can’t talk about them, then Building Your Confidence is for you. Many men have said that having confidence is key to them maintaining their safer sex strategy, but this is something they have had to learn over time.

Why is confidence building important for gay and bi men?

Low self-esteem has often been mentioned as a causal factor in gay men having unprotected sex, as is a belief that HIV exposure and possible infection is inevitable. The INSIGHT study found that men who repeatedly test for HIV and remained HIV-negative differered in self confidence levels from those who went on to become HIV-positive. These men all shared a similar number of sexual partners, but those with higher confidence believe that the threat of HIV exposure does not affect them having healthy and fulfilling sex lives. This is thanks to their communication skills, HIV knowledge and belief in their own futures, which encourage them to protect themselves.

Tell us five things that gay and bi men will learn from this groupwork.

1. Tips for better conversational skills, including how to start different types of conversation, understand body language and ask questions.

2. Being able to ask for the type of sex you want, by feeling good about yourself, knowing what sex you like and being open to new things.

3. Help with setting your sexual boundaries. What are your personal safer sex rules? Is it the same for regular and casual partners.

4. How to deal with rejection. Learn to overcome fear based on past experiences and to embrace uncertainty.

5. Saying no to the sex you don’t want. What went wrong when sex hasn’t been as safe as you wanted it to be?

What about the gay men who can’t attend this course? What advice could you give them about confidence building?

Confidence is feeling comfortable that you can withstand what life throws at you. It builds by taking daily actions on a consistent basis. Something that first seemed scary, like starting a new job soon becomes a normal part of your life.

Many people lack confidence because they struggle with uncertainty and resist it. As your confidence grows you are better equipped to see the opportunity it holds. When faced with a stressful situation that would normally have you running for the hills, think about what thoughts are stopping you and how it makes you feel, both emotionally and physically. These can be either helpful or unhelpful to your confidence and the action you take.

You fancy a guy in a bar and he’s smiled at you. You might think he’s too good looking for you, so you already feel rejected and are unlikely to do anything. You might even avoid him altogether.

Instead if your first thought is helpful – he looks nice, and seems interested – you will feel hopeful and physically more comfortable. You smile back and start a conversation…

If you take the risk you open yourself up to the possibility. Give him a chance and you both might win. Even if it goes nowhere with this guy, and after ten minutes of chatting you go your separate ways, at least you’ve broken the cycle of inaction, and that’s a success. Small success builds confidence.

Building Your Confidence is a one day course designed to help you improve your confidence using easily learnt practical skills. When: 20 August 2016 10am-5pm Where: Positive East, 159 Mile End Road, London, E1 4AQ Cost: It’s free of charge and open to gay and bisexual men. Priority for places on this course will be given to people who live or work in Tower Hamlets. For more information, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/building-your-confidence.

READ >> Are we generation bareback?

READ >> HIV prevention and the gay community