This month, we’re talking about dating with HIV. Here are some tips on how to have sex safely while in a mixed-status relationship.
So here’s the situation: you’ve been dating a person who you REALLY like. Your relationship is like any other—you want to spend all your time together and when apart you’re never off the phone. The only difference is that one of you is HIV positive.
The HIV thing scares a lot of people, but it needn’t IF you’re clued up.
Here are some simple steps mixed-status couples (i.e. couples in which one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative) can take to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Take your drugs
The positive partner should take care to take the right dose of their antiretroviral drugs consistently. These drugs reduce the viral load of HIV (ie, the amount of HIV in your blood) to undetectable levels, greatly reducing the risk of transmitting the virus to an uninfected partner. Studies have shown that the risk of transmission can be reduced by as much as 96%.
It’s safe to have sex…
…if you use the right protection: condoms, femidoms, and dental dams. These methods act as a barrier against bodily fluids, which harbour HIV. However, these barriers aren’t indestructible and can break. Water-based or silicone-based lubricants can make for smoother sailing, but make sure to avoid oil-based lubes like body lotion or baby oil. These types of lubes can breakdown the latex in the condom causing them to break.
What if the condom breaks?
If a negative partner is accidentally exposed to HIV, they should seek medical assistance immediately. A doctor will provide them with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This treatment involves taking powerful antiretroviral drugs as soon as possible after exposure (ideally within 72 hours). However, PEP is not 100% effective and so is not a “morning-after pill” for HIV. HIV testing will also be required.
Know your status. For peace of mind and to maintain a strong relationship, mixed-status couples should regularly attend HIV-testing appointments and receive counselling together. HIV testing can take the form of either a blood test (results take from a day to a week), a rapid blood test (results take up to 20 min), or a saliva test (this measures levels of HIV antibodies rather than HIV itself).
If a positive partner has recently been ill, it’s best to avoid sex until they have recovered to minimise the risk of infection for the negative partner. During illness, the viral load of the positive partner can increase because their immune system is busy fighting other infections.
If a happy mixed-status couple decides to have a baby, the treatments and technology available today make it possible to have a child who is HIV negative, even if both parents are HIV positive. If the male partner is HIV positive, then his sperm can be “washed”. Yep, really. Sperm washing is a real thing. HIV is not carried in the sperm, but rather in the seminal fluid around the sperm, which can be washed away. On the other hand, if the female partner is positive, use of ARVs during pregnancy can reduce the risk of passing HIV onto the child to less that 5%. Without treatment the risk of passing the infection to the child can rise up to 20%.
So there you go, it’s totally possible to have an amazing sex life with HIV. You just need to be extra safe.
What are your thoughts on dating someone with HIV?
Our friends Shawn and Gwenn talk about being in a mixed status relationship in the video below, answering the question ‘Are you scared?’
You can find out more about life in a mixed status couple over at: www.shawnandgwenn.com