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Living with HIV

Being HIV positive can often make you feel that it’s just too difficult, or impossible to have a sex life or intimate relationship with someone.

You are the same person you were before you became HIV positive, your ability to form relationships need not alter because of HIV. True, being HIV positive may make things more complicated. There may be extra strains and stresses on you and those around you, but this doesn’t have to be a reason to shut yourself off or deny yourself from rewarding and fulfilling emotional and sexual experiences.

What’s so important about sex and relationships?

Different people want different things from relationships and sex. The range of relationships and types of sex are as varied as the people having them. Being HIV positive does not mean that your needs and wants are the same as all the other people with HIV.

There are many reasons for having or wanting to have sex. Here are a few reasons that other people with HIV said about why they have or want sex:

  • It’s a basic human need – like sleeping or eating
  • It’s a way of having intimacy with another person
  • To prove I’m a man
  • Being with another woman/ man makes me whole
  • To feel alive
  • To have children
  • For fun
  • To avoid loneliness
  • For love
  • For the rush and the excitement
  • To prove I’m attractive
  • To get away from being ‘HIV positive’ for a while.

You may not agree with some or any of these reasons. You may have your own reasons for having or wanting sex. Whatever your reasons, having a fulfilling and rewarding sex life is an important part of life for many people, being HIV positive doesn’t alter this.

Does having HIV change things?

Some of the things that people have told us are listed below:

  • It can be more bother than it’s worth
  • It’s made me more creative when I have sex
  • I have feelings of guilt about putting a partner at risk
  • More complicated but it’s worth it
  • There’s no difference
  • Having to talk so much about it beforehand makes it less sexy
  • Erection problems make me avoid sexual situations.

Should I tell?

Just as there are risks of rejection when telling people about your HIV, there are benefits. When other people don’t know about you being HIV positive they may not offer the support that you need.

It is important that you give some thought to telling sexual partners of your HIV before having sex. Recently there have been a small number of prosecutions for sexual transmission of HIV. The situation is complex. Currently it seems that if you don’t tell a sexual partner you have HIV, and you don’t use condoms for all and any penetrative sex, and if you pass the virus on to them, they could make a complaint that could end with legal proceedings against you. Think about it:

  • Why do you want to tell them?
  • Why do you feel they need to know?
  • What are they likely to do with the information?
  • Will they share this information with others?
  • What are the benefits and disadvantages of telling them?
  • How realistic are your expectations?
  • Are you likely to regret telling?
  • Is now the right time both for you and them?

Your Health

Taking care of your sexual health isn’t always about you protecting others. It’s just as important that you look after your own health. This doesn’t have to be at the expense of giving up on sex and relationships.

Above all you need to remember that sex and having a relationship is as important a part of your life as it can be for anyone else. HIV doesn’t take that away. Sexuality is part of who you are as a human being. Of course you have the choice not to have sex at all in your life, if that’s what you prefer, but it shouldn’t be because of unnecessary fears about the real risk of passing on HIV. Nor should your choices be based on an overly simplistic view on whether it’s right or wrong to have sex or relationships because you are HIV positive.

Need support? Contact Sahir House, Liverpool on 0151 237 3989 or www.sahir.uk.com or Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) on 0845 12 21 200 or www.tht.org.uk

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