As an HIV-Positive Man, These Are the 5 Questions I’m Asked Most Often About Dating
I am an HIV-positive, 50-year-old gay man. I tested positive for HIV in 2013, when I was 45 years old. I seroconverted during the time of antiretrovirals and PrEP. Months after testing positive I was labeled “undetectable,” meaning that thanks to those antiretrovirals and access to good health care, I can no longer transmit the virus. And while there have been amazing breakthroughs in science and in education regarding HIV and its transmission, sometimes dating with HIV still feels scary. Sometimes those of us with HIV still live under the stigma of the disease, both from within ourselves and from outside.
My boyfriend, Noah, is HIV-negative. I told him my HIV status before we ever went on our first date. His response was amazing: “OK. But I think we can work through anything if we want to. Maybe I will go do a little education just so I know what everything means. I’m excited to meet you.”
Still, it can be hard to let go of that voice in the back of your head telling you you’re sick, broken or tainted somehow. And learning to date after you find out you are HIV-positive can be scary. Sometimes other people will say things that can be hurtful. But in my experience, most of the time, people have been amazing and kind, and honestly way more educated about dating with HIV than I would have thought.
A person should never feel ashamed of his HIV status, or feel less than or unworthy of love.
With that in mind, here are five questions I’ve been asked repeatedly on my blog, where I discuss living and dating with HIV.
1. “When is the best time to tell someone I am HIV-positive?“
I tell people right away, before I even meet them. The reason for this is less about them and more about myself. I want to give them the chance to back out — or to be a dick — before I’ve even formed a connection to them. If someone is going to say something hurtful, or decide they don’t want to meet me because of my HIV status, I want to know that as soon as possible.
Also, I think being open and being honest lets others know we don’t feel less than, and we won’t tolerate being treated as such. Disclosure can be self-affirming. I am an HIV-positive man, and I am OK with that. I’m more than OK; I like who I am.
I put my status on all the gay apps, I talk about it openly and I write about it. I want the world to know this is who I am, and who I am is pretty fucking awesome. But using good judgment is also important. If you feel disclosing your status could put you at risk, don’t do it. Just walk away and go to where the love is.
2. “My partner and I are in a sero-discordant relationship (meaning one is HIV-positive, the other negative). How do we make safe sex choices?”
With so many options out there regarding safe sex — from PrEP to condoms to TasP — it can feel overwhelming. But I approach safe sex from the angle of self-care. If I am taking care of my health and my body, taking my meds and seeing my doctor, then I am already living a safe and healthy life, and my sex life is already safer because of that. This is the idea behind TasP (Treatment as Prevention). My HIV treatment is the frontline to HIV prevention.
Another thing to remember with safe sex is that while I will do everything I can to prevent transmission of the virus, just because you are on PrEP and I am undetectable doesn’t mean I’m gonna let you bareback me. Safe sex is a two-way street. Knowing your partner and talking openly with them about your expectations and about the health of you both is important.
If you and your partner are deciding, as a team, how to manage safe sex in your relationship, another option is to bring them with you to your doctor. The three of you (or how ever many of you there are) can have an open and honest discussion about the best way for you to approach safe sex.
Educate yourself and talk openly and honestly about your needs. And don’t forget to have fun, because sex is fun.
3. “I am HIV-positive and undetectable, and my partner is negative. He doesn’t want to use condoms during sex, and I don’t know what the right thing to do is.”
In my opinion, the right thing to do is whatever the two of you are comfortable doing. According to countless studies and the CDC, there have been zero transmissions of the virus from an undetectable partner to a negative partner, even when condoms aren’t being used.
That’s great news, and it should make those of us who maintain our undetectable status feel proud. We are now part of the solution. But sex is about being comfortable with who you’re with and what you’re doing. If having bareback sex with your partner would mean you stress out over potentially infecting him — even if those chances are almost zero — then wear a condom.
You should never feel pressured into doing anything. Talk about this with your partner. Tell him what concerns you, and let him be part of the process.
4. “I recently found out I’m HIV-positive and am considering getting back into the dating / hooking up game. Do you think it would be easier to focus solely on other poz guys? I don’t think I can handle a lot of rejection right now.”
Personally, I try not to take HIV status (mine or his) into consideration when I’m asking someone on a date or to hookup. I think you’ll be surprised at how open and accepting people are when it comes to HIV, and those who aren’t are probably assholes in every aspect of their life, not just this one, so you’re lucky to find that out early on!
The majority of the time my status has never been a barrier to dating or getting laid. Date and fuck who you want, and don’t let anyone tell you your HIV status makes you unworthy or undeserving.
5. “I recently started dating a guy who is HIV-negative. He’s interested in my treatment and curious and asks a lot of questions. How involved I should let him be? Is there a point where it’s too much?”
I think it’s too much when you feel like it’s too much, but I also think you’re lucky to have met a guy interested in your experience and who wants to understand what you’re going through. I include Noah in everything. I tell him what’s going on, if my meds change, what my labs are. If he has questions, we look them up together. I like that my partner is interested in my experience and that we get to talk about it openly.
This is an opportunity for both of you to learn and grow, and to form a deeper connection. As far as I can tell, it’s a win-win. But that’s just me, and if it makes you uncomfortable, maybe tell him that. I am a big believer that honesty, openness and communication will lead to a stronger, more loving connection.
Dating can be scary, and dating with HIV can bring added stress. My approach is to always be direct, and to trust that regardless of what anyone else says, I am OK just as I am. I encourage you to share with your partners, even if they are just random hookups, and allow for a connection to exist that is based on openness.
I think that kind of intimacy makes everything that much hotter.
Do you have experience around dating with HIV?
Jeff Leavell is a writer living between Los Angeles and Berlin. He specializes in queer social commentary, relationships, sexuality, art and Nightlife. You can find him at his website or on Instagram.
This article was originally published on April 3, 2020. It has since been updated.