Everything You've Ever Wanted To Ask About Dating With HIV

"There's never, ever a need to apologise for your condition."
Maria Korneeva via Getty Images

Dating can be a minefield at the best of times. Issues pop up everywhere - from how to meet people, to delving into the world of sex. Add a chronic illness such as HIV, with a whole load of stigma attached to it, into the mix and you may find that the list of issues you face suddenly gets a little bit longer. Thankfully, being HIV-positive is not as damning a diagnosis as it once was, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to put a hold on your love life either. In this article, we will explore the dating world for those that have been diagnosed with HIV to put to bed some of the stigma people may feel about their condition.

Who should I tell if I’m HIV positive?

The most important thing about your HIV status, after accepting your diagnosis and understanding that you’re still you in spite of it, is to tell the people that need to know. If you decide to share your diagnosis with your friends and family that is entirely up to you, they do not necessarily need to know. It is, however, important to tell anyone that you are considering dating, anyone that you are currently dating, and anyone that you are currently having sex with. It is important that you do this as you need to be open with people that are at risk of potentially contracting HIV.

How can I find a partner if I’m HIV positive?

Finding a romantic partner can be difficult for everyone, but when you are living with HIV you feel like your prospects are reduced even more. This is not the case however, and you should not feel disheartened just because of your diagnosis. The fact of the matter is you should look to date people how you would normally look to date people be it via an app, in a nightclub, or through a friend. Finding someone that accepts you for who you are is first and foremost the feature that determines a good partner.

How do I deal with other people’s reactions after telling them that I’m HIV positive?

There is potentially no ideal way to tell a potential new partner that you are HIV positive. In fact, it can be just as much about who you are telling, rather than how you tell them. You could time it exactly right, let the news down gently and still, it will be something that some people just won’t accept.

It’s important to remember that it’s okay if someone reacts badly to the news. Other people are allowed to reject you, just as you can them. This can be because of your HIV status, your political opinions, or the way you slurp your food, it is all the same really. Dating and finding ‘the one’ is a fine art, and there may be a number of reasons that you and someone else don’t work out.

If the reason someone does not want to be with you is that you’re HIV positive then you have to respect that and try and move on. You need to ensure that you don’t let it affect your self-esteem, and remember that there is more to who you are as a person than your sexual health.

When should I tell someone that I’m HIV positive?

When it comes to disclosing your HIV status, there are generally two approaches; tell and kiss or kiss and tell. Tell and kiss means to tell a potential partner before the first kiss, or even before the first date. This ensures that you get it out there straight away, giving the other person plenty of time to process the information before you’re too romantically involved. By the time you do share more of a connection, you’ll know that they’re okay with it. However, you may find that more people will reject you as they can see it as more of a roadblock before getting to know the person behind it.

The kiss-and-tell approach on the other hand means, as the name suggests, to wait until potentially after a few dates. This approach allows you to find out if there’s actually a potential romantic spark between you and the other person before sharing your private medical history. It also gives the other person a chance to let them know more of the real you, before finding out about your HIV status. Some people can often feel misled or deceived by this approach, and the secrecy can often build the disclosure up more in your own head.

There’s not really one approach that’s better than the other - it’s all about what feels right for you. You may even find that you do things differently with different people. The key thing to remember though is to always tell potential partners before you have any sexual encounters. Having unprotected sex with someone who doesn’t know you are HIV positive not only violates their right to their own body, but it’s also a criminal act.

How should I tell someone that I’m HIV positive?

Even when you feel comfortable enough to tell someone you’re interested in dating that you have HIV, finding the right words can prove difficult. Try and keep things simple and only disclose the amount of information that you want to.

After telling someone, you may receive a number of follow-up questions, such as ‘when did you get it?’, and ‘who gave it to you?’, but you need only disclose as much information as you feel comfortable with. You should tell potential partners about your status, but you do not owe them your entire medical history.

Also, remember there’s no need to apologise for your condition. Part of the stigma surrounding the virus is that people do not fully understand it. You do not need to feel or act like it’s your fault. Relax, go with your gut, and remember how many other people have successfully found their way through the disclosure.

How can I educate people about HIV?

The reason that dating with HIV can be so hard is because of the myths and false information that still surrounds the condition. Some people still believe the rumours from the 1980s, things such as thinking you can pass HIV from toilet seats, or via kissing, both of which have been proven as being false.

Once you have told potential partners about your status it’s important that they understand the condition. You can work on educating people on how it’s transmitted (only through contaminated blood or unprotected sexual contact), and help them to learn that it is not something to be scared of.

Something that is also not widely known is that if you regularly take your HIV medication to the point where the viral load in your blood is classified as ‘undetectable’, then it’s effectively impossible to pass the virus onto anyone. Passing on this information can help partners to feel more comfortable.

Am I still HIV positive if the HIV in my body is ‘undetectable’?

If you have been diagnosed with HIV and have been receiving treatment, it’s possible that the level of HIV in your body will become “undetectable.” This means that the amount of the virus in your bloodstream is so low that it cannot be detected by standard laboratory tests.

It is important to understand that an undetectable viral load does not, unfortunately, mean that the virus has been completely eliminated from your body. It does mean however that it’s at a very low level and it is unlikely that it will be passed on to others through sexual contact. However, if you stop using your treatment, the viral load would likely increase and it will be able to be transmitted again.

Unfortunately, it’s important to keep in mind that just because the virus is undetectable, it doesn’t mean that you are cured of HIV. The virus is still present in your body, and if you stop taking medication, the virus can start replicating again and your viral load can become detectable.

Can I still have sex if I am HIV positive?

Yes, you can still have a rich and fulfilling sex life when you are HIV positive. It is, however, very important to take the relevant precautions to prevent transmitting the virus to your sexual partners. One of the best ways to do this is to use antiretroviral therapy to suppress the virus to undetectable levels in your blood. When the virus is undetectable, the risk of transmission is greatly reduced.

It’s also very important to practise safe sex and it is strongly advised that you use condoms to further reduce the risk of transmission. Most importantly, you need to be open and honest with your sexual partners about your HIV status. This gives them the chance to make an informed decision about whether to engage in sexual activity with you.

How can I practice safe sex if I’m HIV positive?

Even if you are managing your condition successfully and have an undetectable viral load, it is still important that you are being safe when having sex. Not only does safe sex protect your partner from contracting HIV, but it also protects you against other sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.

Your dating life when you are tested as HIV positive may become more complicated, but it certainly doesn’t have to be over. While you may meet some people who are unable to accept your conditions, and others who react badly to being told the truth, there’s nothing to say that you can’t have a fulfilling love life, and indeed a sex life.

For those who are currently HIV-negative and are looking to keep it that way, there are effective preventative treatments available for those who are at high risk of contracting the disease. PrEP is available to buy online at UK Meds and is extremely effective at protecting against HIV.