Dating is tough in general, but being a woman who is HIV-positive presents a whole host of unique questions and issues. We answer some of your most pressing relationship questions, from dating to marriage to babies.
Are there dating sites for HIV-positive women?
Yes, there are a handful of dating sites that are for people with HIV or, in some cases, another sexually transmitted infection, like herpes or hepatitis. ( Check HIV dating sites on http://www.hivpositivedatingsites.net )Plenty of sites specific to other parts of your identity make disclosing your status easy. It’s not uncommon to see profiles that begin with “I am HIV-positive” and go on to list the poster’s other interests, as they do on the pet-lovers personals site. Click the link http://www.hivpositivedatingsites.net to check the full reviews of the most popular HIV positive dating sites in one place.
Do I disclose online or wait until I meet the guy (or girl) I’m interested in?
This is a personal choice, really, but many women say that disclosing on a website is an easy way to take the fear of rejection out of meeting new potential dates. It lets you screen out the losers who can’t handle a woman like you.
Am I required to tell my date I’m HIV-positive?
You do need to come out about your status before you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex, not for their safety as much as yours. According to the Center for HIV Law and Policy, 36 states and two U.S. territories have HIV-specific criminal statutes. Each of those states has reported proceedings in which an HIV-positive person has been arrested and/or prosecuted for consensual sex, biting, or spitting, and in some states even a hand job can be a risky act if you haven’t told your sexual partner your status. A report from the group documents 80 prosecutions in a recent two-year period, such as that of an HIV-positive Iowa man who had used a condom (he had to register as a sex offender and is not allowed unsupervised contact with young children, including his nieces and nephews) and a Georgia woman who was sentenced to eight years in prison for failing to disclose her HIV-positive status, even though two witnesses told jurors that her sexual partner was aware of her diagnosis. Knowing the laws is important, protecting you from prosecution even more so. Disclose first, fool around after. These laws are outdated, prejudicial, and more harmful than protected sex with a person with HIV, but for now you have to protect yourself from them.
When should I tell my date I have HIV?
Look, you don’t have to tell anyone about your HIV status until you’re ready emotionally or are about to engage in behavior that could put someone at risk (such as sex). There’s no one way that works for everyone. Some women like to come out casually between dinner and dessert, while others mark it as a serious conversation to be had after the first date but before things get serious. What is important to remember is that you are not alone: You are one of the nearly 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yes, you have a disability, but living with HIV is like living with any other chronic disease. While you can’t transmit diabetes or fibromyalgia to a sexual partner, there are incredibly effective ways to ensure that potential partners are never at risk of contracting HIV from you, including treatment as prevention and proper condom use. Just remember, there’s no shame in having HIV and being honest with a prospective date about it. If he or she balks, that’s just not the right person for you.
How do I get over my fear of rejection?
Everyone in the dating world is afraid of rejection, whether it’s because we have baggage (kids, exes, trauma), we don’t fit social expectations (of age, size, appearance, cultural background), we’re awkward at socializing (nerdy, shy, introverted), or have one of the myriad of other characteristics that make us unique. Women get judged for what they look like from the moment they’re aware of the world, so insecurity can often be our fallback position, with or without a chronic medical condition. For people with HIV, dating can be intimidating and fear of rejection might keep you from disclosing your status to dates. Experts at AIDSInfoNet.org recommend that you remember every situation is different and you don’t have to tell everybody. If you aren’t going to be in a situation where HIV could be transmitted, there’s no need to tell your date, but sooner or later, in any relationship, “it will be important to talk about your HIV status. The longer you wait, the more difficult it gets,” they note. For many folks, like Greater Than AIDS ambassador Marvelyn Brown, having that conversation is easier over the phone early in the relationship. She says that way she hasn’t invested too much energy in the relationship before finding out whether having HIV makes her a no-go for a potential partner. Smart advice.
If we’re both HIV-positive, do we still need to use condoms?
This depends on whom you ask. Some doctors say that different strains of HIV can be passed between two positive people, and this can make existing treatment ineffective. It’s called reinfection, it can up your viral load, and it’s why many experts want you to continue using condoms (plus they also prevent other sexually transmitted infections). But, says Alex Garner, a program coordinator at the National Minority AIDS Council, “So many people are still confused and conflicted by [reinfection info]. If it happens it probably happens in the first couple of years of infection, and after that it’s rare.”
That’s one reason that if your viral load is undetectable in each of you, some doctors now say that you do not need to use condoms, because an undetectable viral load means you cannot pass along HIV—whether your sex partner is positive or not. This is fiercely debated in some circles, so talk with your doctor for her recommendation.
What if the condom breaks?
Don’t panic. If it breaks before ejaculation, have him pull out and put on a new condom. If it breaks after ejaculation, pull out slowly and carefully, then go take a nice soapy shower or bath. But do not douche or use an enema; both set the stage for infection. If you’re both HIV-positive, you should both see your doctors and talk to them about possible reinfection. If you’re the only person with HIV, your partner should explain to their doctor that they had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person. Either way, this info helps your physician monitor your treatment and, if needed, order tests or medication to prevent further complications. But if this is your spouse, partner, long-term main squeeze, or someone you plan to be in a serious relationship with, it’s time to talk pre-exposure prophylaxis.
What the hell is “pre-exposure prophylaxis”?
In a nutshell, “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or PrEP, is basically the concept of giving an antiretroviral medication to HIV-negative women and men to keep them from contracting HIV. Research has shown anti-HIV drugs can reduce the risk of HIV infection in the negative partners of serodiscordant heterosexual couples and gay male couples. (Rates for female-female couples are so low no research has been done.) Truvada is the only drug so far approved for PreP. It is recommended for partners of HIV-positive people and those at high risk in other ways (sexually active gay men, sex workers, IV drug users). The user takes the medication daily, and it helps prevent them from getting HIV. Meanwhile, you, as the HIV-positive person, can lower your viral load to undetectable levels, and you’re doubly safe. Health experts warn that PrEP should not be the first line of defense against HIV infection, instead recommending regular condom use as well. Some activists and doctors disagree.
We’re engaged! Can I get a marriage license if I have HIV?
Yes. Most states have stopped requiring blood tests for couples getting married. Many states do require that anyone applying for a marriage license be offered an HIV test or information on HIV, but no state requires a premarital HIV test. If you’re going to put a ring on it, you need to tell your future spouse, but you won’t have to tell the government.
How do we handle being a serodiscordant couple?
Serodiscordant simply means one of you has HIV and one of you doesn’t. Some people now call themselves part of a “magnetic couple” as well, which sounds a lot less clinical. There’s very little research on how successfully serodiscordant, or magnetic, couples cope with the complications of HIV. According to TheBody.com, an online HIV resource guide, “Research of this nature tends to measure the most negative aspects of positive/negative couplings, telling us primarily how HIV complicates our lives. It tells us very little about the rewards, the discovery of inner strengths, the emotional ties, the opportunities for developing better communication skills, or the joy generated when a mixed-status couple does create a happy, strong, fulfilling relationship.” What you need to know if you’re part of a mixed couple is that you can have a happy and healthy relationship, but like all relationships, it requires work and commitment, because love does not conquer all. Many HIV-positive people fear spreading the virus to their partners, making sex fraught with tension. Think about PreP, about condoms, about ways to be safe sexually so this isn’t your issue too. Talk about living with a person with a disability, which HIV is. Couples might also want to see a couples counselor who specializes in coping with HIV. Many HIV-negative partners encounter disrespect from friends and family members when the other partner’s status is revealed, which is sort of an unexpected diss for many men. A counselor can help you work through those kinds of issues and communicate to each other your anxieties, fears, and needs.
My new partner has kids. How do we tell them I have HIV?
Many parents worry that telling their kids might place a burden on the children. Mental health professionals say the decision about whether to tell your kids depends on many factors, including how perceptive they are (if there are medicine containers all around, kids will ask about them), how discreet you need to be (asking kids to keep your status a secret is a heavy burden), and how strong you can be for them (at first some kids will be angry or overly clingy, worried you’ll be dying). For most people, telling the children is the right thing to do. Before you do, learn everything you can about HIV. Your kids have been perfecting the “why” questions since they were 2 years old; this is a moment when there will be a lot of “whys” and “hows.” Your doctor or counselor might have ideas about groups or advocates for children, who can also talk to the kids or be a support team for you and the offspring as you go through the coming-out process. Then talk in a quiet space, be honest, trust your kids to handle it, and let them express their emotions fully (remember, kids can experience a range of feelings, including guilt, fear, rage, and rejection). This process may take more than one day—it’s the beginning of a conversation in which you should be honest, age-appropriate, and willing to offer both answers and assurances. Kids can impress us with their ability to understand and assimilate information; you just need to have it ready for them. It’s important to remind them that HIV isn’t AIDS but that it is a chronic condition like asthma and a disability; use examples of their friends, classmates, or family members to show that many of us have disabilities and that’s just a normal part of life’s diversity. After the crying and talking is done, take them out for ice cream so they remember that this is just another thing that your family will tackle together.