5 Biggest Dating Questions From HIV-Positive Gay Men
When should I tell a potential partner I have HIV?
Remember you don't have to tell anyone about your HIV status until you're ready emotionally or are about to engage in behaviors that could put someone at risk (such as sex). There's no one way that works. Some people 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. Heck, Mondo Guerra came out on national TV. "When I came out as HIV-positive on Project Runway, I was afraid of how people would react," he told Everyday Health. "I thought about it the next day and I was really frightened of the backlash. But then when the episode aired, it was amazing how many people responded in such a positive way, and how people were so willing to share their own personal stories. And also through Facebook I get so many different emails from my friends, who share their personal stories about living with HIV."
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 2008 data (the latest available) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Living with HIV is like living with many other chronic diseases. While you can't transmit diabetes or lupus to a sexual partner, there are effective ways to ensure potential partners are never at risk for contracting HIV from you. There's no shame in having HIV and being honest with a prospective date about it. If he balks, he's just not the right person for you.
Do I legally need tell my date I'm HIV-positive?
You do need to come out about your status before you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. 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 HIV-positive people have been arrested and/or prosecuted for consensual sex, biting, or spitting, so 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 center 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 yourself from prosecution even more so.
How do I get over my fear of rejection?
Face it, 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. For people with HIV, dating can be intimidating and fear of rejection might keep you from disclosing your status to dates. The 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," the website notes. For many folks, like Greater Than AIDS ambassador Marvelyn Brown, having that conversation is easier over the phone early in the relationship. That way you haven't invested too much energy in the relationship when you find out whether having HIV makes you a no-go for your potential partner. Disclose first, fool around after.
If we're both HIV-positive, do we still need to use condoms?
Yes. This is among the most common questions, says Mark Cichocki, a HIV/AIDS nurse educator at the University of Michigan's HIV/AIDS Treatment Program and the author of Living with HIV: A Patient's Guide. "Sexual contact between two HIV-infected people most certainly requires a condom," Cichocki wrote on About.com. "Different strains or types of HIV can be passed between two HIV-infected people, making treatment of the infection even more difficult. This transfer of one HIV strain to another HIV-infected person is called reinfection. For instance, if person 'A' has an HIV type that has been responsive to therapy and person 'B' has an HIV type that hasn't, passing that type of HIV from 'B' to 'A' will make it harder to treat person 'A,' possibly making therapy ineffective in person 'A' as well. Also keep in mind, condom use is also important in preventing the transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases.' Reinfection with HIV makes treatment more difficult, and you could end up with a skyrocketing viral load in no time."
What if the condom breaks?
Don't panic. If it breaks before ejaculation, pull out and put a new condom on. If it breaks after ejaculation, pull it out slowly and carefully, then go take a nice soapy shower or bath. But do not perform an enema, which would 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 only one of you has HIV, the negative person should explain to their doctor that they had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person. The doctor can give him PeP, post-exposure prophylaxis, which is given to anyone who might have been exposed to HIV; it stops the virus from replicating in your system and is incredibly successful. Either way, all this info helps your physician monitor your treatment and, if needed, order tests or medication to prevent further complications.