We thought it was time to post some tips about having the HIV talk. This is a guide and not a map. First and foremost, you must do what is best for you and at a pace you are comfortable with.
Every day the message about how HIV has changed is drilled into our heads. We read it on the web but also see it on billboards across the world, with catchy slogans like Undetectable = Un-infectious. But this hasn’t really changed the dating world for many guys living with HIV, especially in the USA. Stigma is still very strong within our community.
Before we dive into this topic, we want to take a moment to mention something very important about the #uequalsu movement. Too often it does not reflect the reality of many gay males living with HIV in the United States. Unlike in Europe, they have not experienced the amazing benefits of a comprehensive healthcare system that affords everyone access to medical treatment and medication. This explains the over 50% of those living with HIV still having a detectable viral load. For them, the information about U=U doesn’t change anything for the better, it can actually make dating worse. Their inability to achieve viral suppression should not be seen as a failure on their part or some sort of individual character flaw.
To be clear, no one should try to shame or force anyone to date or even have sex with someone living with HIV. Only you can make this choice for yourself, but we would hope that you make it being fully aware of the facts and not based on fears of the past.
Conversely, we definitely can understand why someone living with HIV would avoid dating or having sex with someone who is HIV negative. The months, years and even decades of possible trauma and rejection from them can be more than one is willing to subject themselves to again. But not every guy is like your ex.
What we hope to accomplish with this article is a bridging of our community. We would like to help assuage the fears of those who don’t know how to approach dating someone with a different status as well as provide some basic tips to help the dialogue begin.
Our site has another article on hooking up and STDs, so here we are going to focus just on those looking to possibly date outside of their status.
For Poz guys
- make a plan
This might sound like paranoia or even overkill, but having a plan is the best way to approach discussing HIV with a potential partner. In your head, you might have all types of scenarios, based on fear, to work out. So, do it! Start with where you would like to bring up the topic, and go as far as what you are going to wear. The worst thing that can happen, hopefully, is that guys turn you down. Rejection is part of living with HIV, but also being human and dating.
- get educated
Just because you are living with HIV, doesn’t mean that you are an expert on this virus, and you don’t have to be. But you should be aware of basic language for U=U, PrEP and even T-cell counts. You also should know your relevant healthcare information, because it will come up in the conversation.
- support system
Generally, you should have at least one person in your life that you trust with your status and subsequent issues. But when it comes to dating, a sounding board is a great resource. This is the person you share your dating plan with, your highs and even lows. It will make the process easier and maybe even more fun.
- uequalsu, but not for everyone
51% of Americans DON”T have an undetectable viral load. This means that they can still infect someone through sex. With U=U on everyone’s lips, it’s important to remember that you can still date, have sex and have a life, even if you aren’t undetectable. This might make this conversation harder but still manageable. Condoms and PrEP are still great options, so get back out there!
- practice (like a job interview)
As part of having a plan, it is good to practice what you are going to say. This will change from guy to guy but for the most part it should include the facts around HIV and your individual health. Don’t overload yourself, or him, with too much medical jargon, just stick to the basic facts.
- don’t’ wait too late
We are often asked when you should disclose your status to a new guy. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. You need to take into account the fact that you are much more than your status and should decide if this person is deserving of such important information about you. If you are open about living with HIV, fist date…go for it. But for others, we think by the 3rd date is best. If you wait to late, some guys will have strong feelings about it, and you.
- keep calm (don’t expect he will be an asshole)
Almost everyone has horror stories about disclosure, but times really have changed and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about guys we don’t know well. The best thing to do is stay calm, work your plan, and see how it goes. Don’t assume he will be an asshole, but be prepared if he is.
- don’t force (if he wants to go, let him)
You can’t make someone love you and you can’t make someone date you. You deserve someone who wants all of you. Guilt trips and drama won’t make you more attractive to a potential partner. If he can’t handle your status, wish him well, and move on to the next one.
- don’t be “that Poz guy”—everything is about HIV
In the bad ole days of AIDS, guys “were HIV”. Their status defined them. This isn’t necessary anymore. You are more than HIV and you need to show him that. Yes, you should disclose this information to him, but don’t forget to share all of the other things about yourself that make you special.
- don’t be a victim/needy
This is important. For many negative guys, those of us with HIV are fragile creatures with a virus that can kill us and them at any moment. Don’t play into this stereotype. Most guys living with HIV have full lives, jobs, education, homes and friends. Being a “victim” isn’t cute or sexy. Men want to be with other strong and capable men.
- don’t be surprised if he is poz too or not phased
If you live in a large city or metro area, the chances are pretty high that he is living with HIV too. The smaller your dating pool, the more likely this is to happen. This isn’t a good or bad thing, just a fact. Other than that, more and more negative guys have dated poz guys in the past, have poz friends or are just open to the idea. Don’t be shocked, he could be reading this article at the same time you are.
- don’t be surprised if he is phased
But, not every guy is a winner. Fear and stigma is keeping a large percentage of our community in the dark. Not everyone is able to handle dating someone with HIV, and that is fine. And you need to let it be fine. You know the horror stories, so don’t be surprised, you will be ok.
For Neg guys
- if you don’t want to date poz guys, stick to the internet
Look, not everyone is not able to handle dating someone with HIV, and that’s ok. Your dating choices are your own, but you should also remember that our community has the highest infection rate of any demographic. Your chances of eventually running into one of us is pretty high. If you want to ensure that you don’t, we suggest sticking to the internet, where you can be very clear in what you are looking for. Ending HIV stigma doesn’t mean you must have sex or date someone you aren’t comfortable with.
- get educated
As a rule, we think all gay males should have a good level of fact based information about HIV. If you are open to dating outside of your status, one of the best things you can do for yourself, and them, is to get as much information about HIV prevention and treatment as you can handle. This will help assuage some of your fears but make the dating world a more comfortable place for you, with many more options.
- make a plan/prep u=u/condoms
We are always amazed when we run into guys that have never considered how they would respond to someone who is living with HIV. This is our illness, we need to think ahead. In general regular testing, condoms and PrEP should be on your radar.
- don’t be surprised if someone is poz
Yes, there are a lot of guys living with HIV all around you. You should never be surprised to find out a guy you like has HIV.
- don’t make him do all the work
Discussing HIV and other STDs is the responsibility of all parties involved. Too often the burden of disclosure is placed upon those who are most vulnerable and effected; those with HIV. Make the conversation easy on him but this doesn’t mean expecting that he will say he is negative. Living with HIV isn’t like how it was, but every guy has his own experiences and feelings that should be respected.
- don’t expect a “poz look”
Older guys who tested positive before the 2000s might have some of the stereotypical signs of HIV due to medications but not other guys. Most guys don’t have a “poz look”, which is great but this makes disclosing harder. “But you don’t look like you have AIDS” is a common sentence we hear. Get yourself educated.
- don’t expect him to be an expert
Just because he is living with HIV doesn’t mean he is an expert on the subject. You might even have more fact based information than he does. Fear and internalized stigma can keep some guys from getting as much new information as possible.
- no matter what, don’t share his status
No matter what happens with your relationship, you never have the right to share his status with anyone without his expressed consent. This includes your parents, friends, or even someone in the future he might be dating. He has trusted you with this information, you shouldn’t break it.
- he doesn’t need saving
Just because a guy tells you that he is living with HIV doesn’t mean that he is sick, stupid, poor, uneducated or in need of your help to survive. He has been doing it just fine before you came into his life. If you have a savior complex, this will destroy any happiness before your relationship even begins.
The wrap up
No one article can address all of the issues or concerns that can arise during a conversation about HIV status. As men, our lives are just too complex and our histories with fear and trauma will take center stage. But, we can make these conversations easier on ourselves and those we are interested in dating. Education is key.
Once you get past the first talk, you will have many more in the future where you work out specific details about your dating and sexual lives. Don’t let HIV be a partner in your relationship, it is not necessary. Studies prove that those with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus sexually to their partners, but there are other ways to keep each other safe.
In the end, you must do what is best for you and make the decisions about who you date that make you comfortable. It might be hard, but you must buck the trends of HIV stigma on one hand, and the pressure to date those outside of your status, on the other hand. This is your life, live it on your terms.