Ms. Goodfleisch is the former clinic administrator of the David Powell HIV Clinic in Austin Texas.
People With HIV Can Date and Have Normal Lives
You've met just the right person, and you think this might be the one. He or she enjoys the same things you do, you get along great, you 'click' in every way, and it looks like there's a future in store. But then you find out this great person is infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In common terms, they are "HIV Positive."
What kind of dating life can you have?
Dating and falling in love is one of the most normal of human behaviors, and for the most part, it's no different for someone with HIV. With some education on both sides, a lot of acceptance and loving understanding, you can indeed have a happy dating relationship with a man or woman who is HIV positive, and you can even marry and have a future.
Yes, you can have a fun and fulfilling dating life!
People with HIV go to the movies, dance, swim, take vacations, shop for groceries, work, go to college, and yes, date, fall in love and get married.
Here are some things you should consider if you've met someone with HIV and you want to date and build a relationship.
It's Important to Discuss Health Issues and HIV When You Date and Become Intimate
The first rule, one you should have explored by now, is to always know for certain the health status of those you date. Many diseases (some of them, such as HIV, considered life-threatening), are transmitted through intimate contact. Unfortunately, many of those who have HIV or other conditions may not know about it.
Naturally, you can ask about someone's status, but unless they've been tested recently (and even then, the results don't always show up if a person is newly infected), they may think they aren't infected, but still have the virus. And, some people don't disclose things honestly. Although there are some lifestyles and situations that might suggest your partner may be at risk of having HIV, it's important to know if they've been exposed to the virus.
If you're in a relationship that's headed for intimacy, do yourselves a mutual favor and get tested together, with an agreement that you'll disclose the information to each other. Testing can be done in a matter of minutes at many health departments (unlike years ago, when it took a few weeks to get results); the tests are usually free, and you can put this issue to rest one way or the other. In some cases, you will need to consent for the test results to be reported to the local health department (especially if you want immediate results). However, confidential testing is still available in some facilities. In either case, you should be permitted to invite your partner to be there when the results are given.
What to Do If Your Mate Is HIV Positive
First, determine if the person you're involved with is getting the proper treatment for HIV. With recent drug therapy, the viral load can be greatly reduced (even to the level considered 'undetectable,') and this not only helps protect the partner, but it keeps the person who has the virus in better health.
If your new romantic interest is lax about following his or her treatment plan, this can create problems for both of you. The person who is infected can deteriorate more easily, and the partner is at a higher risk of becoming infected (although protection should be used at all times). There's also an increase in stress if you're continually worried that the person you love isn't properly caring for himself or herself.
It goes without saying that you should always use condoms during intimacy. But we'll say it here anyway. Use protection! The best way to protect yourself, aside from abstinence, is by using condoms at all times.
How to Avoid Catching HIV
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has excellent information on how HIV is transmitted, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.
Transmission is generally done through body fluids such as:
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- Vaginal fluid
- Breast milk
- Other body fluids that contain blood
Avoid contact with these types of body fluids when you are involved with an HIV partner. Women who are infected with HIV should not breastfeed, since the infant can be exposed through the mother's milk.
What about kissing?
Closed-mouth kissing does not present a risk, but deep kissing (French kissing) can cause exposure if your partner's gums are infected or bleeding. The risk is remote, but it is recommended that you avoid this type of deep kissing if your partner has HIV.
What about hugging, holding hands, normal skin contact and using the same toilet seat?
Daily contact such as this does not transmit HIV. The CDC site above gives additional details on daily life and living with someone who has HIV, and it is recommended that those in the same household become fully educated on infection control.
If you and your partner are both male, always use condoms when you have intimacy, and follow other guidelines (such as those listed below) for other types of contact, such as kissing and other exposures.
Can men catch it from women?
Yes, in addition to the risk of infection through contact with blood (during a menstrual period, for example), vaginal fluid can carry the virus and can infect male partners through the urethra opening or through any small cuts or abrasions that might be on the penis. According to the most recent data posted by the CDC, about 24% of those infected with HIV are women. The ratio is disproportionately higher for Black and Latina women, however, compared to women of other races or ethnic groups.
To avoid infection, use condoms when having vaginal sex, regardless of which partner is infected with HIV.
What About Marriage and Pregnancy?
Marriage with an HIV partner is indeed possible, and there are many happy couples who live with this condition in one or both partners. As mentioned above, it is important to fully understand infection control and to be compliant with treatment plans.
There have been many advances in HIV medicine in the past 20-plus years. Although the safest thing for everyone concerned is to always have protected sex, and perhaps the best or safest choice is to avoid pregnancy, sometimes an HIV infected woman becomes pregnant, and understandably, some couples where the man has HIV want to explore having children. The video above is the first of a three-part series about an HIV-positive man and his wife who have dealt with the infection during their entire marriage and have had children together.
Consult your doctor!
Before jumping into parenthood, discuss your thoughts and desires with your doctor. He or she knows your partner's medical condition and can advise you of the options. Some options might not be appropriate for a given situation, so it's important to have your situation evaluated individually.
Pregnancy and HIV
What if you want to have a baby someday? It's not out of the question for a couple dealing with HIV to have children; here are some things to know if you are in a relationship with someone who has HIV and you want to start a family.
When the woman has HIV: The risk to an unborn fetus is greatly reduced if an HIV infected woman is on proper antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. If an unplanned pregnancy occurs, consult with your doctor about the proper treatment and choices to protect the safety of the baby as well as the mother.
If your female partner has HIV and the two of you want to conceive, consult the doctor ahead of time about the status of her virus, the appropriateness of this choice and the option of using artificial insemination to impregnate her. The sperm can be harvested from the male partner (or a donor) and transferred to the woman with no risk to the male partner.
When the man has HIV: A process called sperm washing can be used to protect the woman who receives sperm from a male donor. The process separates sperm cells from the fluid it is carried in (semen) and the cells are tested for HIV before being implanted in the woman or used to fertilize an egg, which is later implanted. This process can be very expensive and is not widely available.
When both have HIV: There can be a risk (small, but still a risk) of the two partners somehow creating a new or different strain of HIV if they engage in unprotected sex. This would, of course, subject the fetus to the infection and current therapies may not be effective. It is not recommended for two partners with HIV to have frequent, unprotected sex.
What about AIDS?
Not all individuals who have HIV have AIDS. Your doctor (or your partner's doctor) can explain what happens when HIV transitions to the AIDS level. Generally, an HIV patient is considered to have AIDS when an opportunistic infection occurs (one that would normally not affect someone whose immune system is not compromised), or when the CD4 count (the cells that help fight infections) goes below 200. This article is not about AIDS and is not intended to provide medical information or a diagnosis.
- The Body
The Web's largest source of HIV and AIDS information. Read, listen or watch the latest HIV/AIDS news, research and resources.
- CDC: HIV
Things to Know About HIV
Because HIV still has no cure, if you enter into a long-term relationship with somebody who has this condition, you should understand that there may be health issues in the future. In recent years, HIV is not quite considered the death sentence it once was, but it is still a disease that can shorten life and in its advanced stages, it can change the quality of life or mobility of someone who has it. So, however, can many other diseases. We are all human and we are all vulnerable to illnesses. Your partner with HIV is no different from the rest of the world in that regard.
Marcy Goodfleisch MA is the former clinic administrator of the David Powell HIV Clinic in Austin Texas and, as the non-scientific member of an Independent Ethics Review Board (IRB) has reviewed and approved research studies in HIV patients.
This article is intended for information only and is not designed to diagnose or treat a specific condition.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Marcy Goodfleisch