For World AIDS day, Gays.com writer Alex Hopkins takes a look at the challenges of being in a serodiscordant relationship.


“That’s a horrid question, of course I would.”
“What a ridiculous question, yes I would and I have.”
“I’d be very surprised if you find someone who is prepared openly to say he wouldn't. Only an asshole would find it a problem.”

These are some of the responses I received when I asked gay men if they would date a HIV positive man. The topic is mired in controversy, so much so that a number of people I spoke to found it outrageous that I was even asking such a question. Some things, they clearly felt, should be taken as a given, unquestioned, unspoken about. But as history has taught us, silence around HIV is not an option.
 

Judgements


I will begin with my own experience: an event - some 15 years ago - which, in the words of the respondent above, potentially makes me an “asshole”. I’d met a guy in a bar, and we’d taken a short walk to the beach, where we sat holding one another as the dawn light splintered over the pier. He told me he was HIV positive. “I know this may change things,” he said. “Of course not, it’s fine.” But I lied. My head was immediately swirling with ideas, facts, fears - and yes, I’m not proud to admit: judgements. We began seeing one another, had sex several times; we never spoke about his status again. Whatever we had petered out when he told me he had issues to deal with. I didn’t press him. Truth be told: I didn’t know how to respond to his status, and by ending things he was, in a way, letting me off the hook. As long as we didn’t discuss HIV everything seemed ok. But it wasn’t. It was far from ok, because I couldn’t escape from what had been drummed into me as a child growing up in the 1980s - through brutal TV adverts, ill-informed teachers, a homophobic father: that HIV could make you sick, could kill and, despite all the information I knew to the contrary, I feared that by being with this beautiful, gentle man I was (in whatever small way) putting myself at risk. And how I despised myself for thinking this. 

 

The science


I’ll never know what may have happened between myself and this guy if we’d practiced what is arguably the most important thing in a serodiscordant relationship: talking. What I am now in possession of are scientific facts - information every HIV negative person who is considering dating a HIV positive man should be aware of. The Australian Opposites Attract Study of gay male couples of opposite HIV status “has so far seen no transmission from the HIV-positive partner within a two-year interim analysis.” The couples surveyed were practicing condomless sex, and most of the HIV-positive partners (84%) were on Anti-Retroviral Therapy, with virtually all of these having an undetectable viral load. The study shows that an undetectable viral load is in fact better prevention against HIV infection than the use of a condom. These findings are backed up by a larger study by PARTNER, which reported no transmissions among 16.400 episodes of anal sex (including condom-protected ones) in gay men. Both of these studies have the potential to revolutionise our preconceptions on what constitutes “safer sex”.

 

Quote

You’re more likely to be infected from sex using a condom with someone who isn’t on treatment than you are to be infected from sex without a condom with someone who is on treatment". Matthew Hodson, Chief Executive of London-based gay men's health charity, GMFA


Gays.com Magazine (7).jpg
Studies show that an undetectable viral load is in fact better prevention against HIV infection than the use of a condom.

 

Free choice


The results of relatively recent scientific studies alone do not have the power to change attitudes - often deeply ingrained views which have been formed over many years; opinions which differ according to the age of the gay men who hold them, and their (frequently very valid) life experiences. The most common argument used against dating HIV positive men concerns exercising free choice. One older gay man who spoke to me expressed this very vocally: “There are a bunch of things that limit my desire for other men. Being HIV positive is one of them. I’m sober, and I find that young men especially are loathed to sleep with you if you don't drink or take drugs. It’s a similar thing; it’s about personal choice.” He added that Anti-Retroviral Therapy is not necessarily available to everyone: “Here in America if you can't afford the drugs that keep you undetectable, your sex life is severely limited.” When challenged on whether other gay men would see his stance as prejudice, he referred to the increasing numbers of young gay men who are infected with HIV through bareback sex: “The only ugly prejudice I've faced recently are men on PrEP who won't have sex unless it's raw.” A similar point was also raised by another man, who confided: “I have some friends that are HIV positive and treat it as an exclusive club, basically barebacking each other as they are already positive, which in itself is pretty reckless.” Are these men discriminating, or just expressing a genuine concern for the welfare of the gay male community? Perhaps it is born out of the anxiety that in silencing an individual’s personal decision not to date HIV positive men all we are achieving is stifling debate, and - more controversially still - idealising serodiscordant relationships, to the point that we are normalising the unsafe sexual practices that can lead to infection. In the words of another man: “We have to be careful not to suggest that HIV is not a problem at all; that there are no health complications connected to living with the virus for the rest of your life - which, despite what we’re increasingly being told, we know not to be the case.”

 

Debate and challenges


Since the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, hugely positive advances have been made in the treatment of HIV and the ways in which we discuss it. Of the men who offered their opinions for this article, the majority expressed a willingness to enter into relationships with HIV men: “We should see the person, not the virus”; “I tend to think that every gay man has the potential to have HIV. It makes no difference to me”; “If someone is/could be the love of your life, would any illness be a problem?” Perhaps the most important thing to consider when we meet anyone new is that gay men’s history has been dominated by victimisation and judgement. We have a shared responsibility to fight this - not add to it. And yet, as we mark another World AIDS day, enormous challenges face us which threaten to complicate this. The increase in HIV rates among young gay men is absolutely terrifying, as is the influence of the new phenomenon of ‘chem sex’. We need frank discussions in order to form effective strategies to tackle such problems before they implode.

We also need to speak honestly about the ways in which we can navigate - and celebrate - the hugely improved aspects of living with HIV in 2016; particularly new, safer types of serodiscordant relationships. We are all still feeling our way here, and opinions will inevitably vary, but the debate - as heated as it may get - must go on. There will be those who are apprehensive about the new options open to us. Reason with them, and try to understand that the place they speak from is more often one of fear rather than hate; it is not constructive to accuse those gay men who are fearful of bigotry - and fear, of course, is best diminished through education. 

But in this new landscape it is crucial that we place those who are battling HIV first. They must not be demonised and tainted with the kind of stigma which we should have banished to the past: the assumption that through their illness they are in someway unclean, somehow unworthy of the love and support that a more meaningful relationship can bring. Continuing to challenge our own personal histories and baggage is pivotal; it’s certainly something I wish I’d had the courage to do in an open, constructive way 15 years ago, when I possibly threw away what could have been the start of real happiness. The key to successfully building any relationship is to treat everyone we meet as an individual, with their own unique backstory, as we leave the judgements at the door. It is, after all, with compassion, rather than fear, that we are most likely to transform our interactions with other human beings for the better. 

 

 


 

 


YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

8 comments

Your content will need to be approved by a moderator

Guest
You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoticons maximum are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



Guest

Posted · Report

Hi I'm joseph

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

Am from USA, am here to give my testimony about how i got my HIV disease and how I was flew from it quickly after having on trust on my spell doctor who cured me immediately. Since the year I married to the man I did love because my parents false me to marry him, I have not been enjoying my relationship and sex life with him, he do spend time on his work and don’t have time for me sometimes, he do sleep at his work and also do carry women’s because he has the money to spent but doesn’t spend it on me. So I was so jealous to the extent that I can’t even control my anger and I decided to start cheating on him with my ex-boyfriend, because my husband do not always be at home expect on weekends, I have sex with him without protection, after some months been in love with my ex-boyfriend I was so sick and I decided to go to test and I found that I was HIV positive I feel so sad and was ashamed because I did know how to open up to my husband I hate before, my ex-boyfriend denied me and when my husband found about what was going on he divorced me and i was ill for good 3 years i went to many places for solution but there was no solution. so one day I was asking GOOGLEsome qustions on how I can get a cure and how i can get some medications which I will be taking to my own surprise they brought one email out named [email]draihomuhelpcenter@gmail.com[/email] that this powerful man can cured HIV AIDS positive,I did not believe about the cure before but i took the email and searched it on GOOGLE and i found many good testimonies about him, people have been giving more testimonies about him so i contacted him about my situation, he told me all the procedures which I will take, And I did before I knew what was happening he called me and told me to go for an HIV test which i did and when the result was out I was HIV negative. Thanks to draihomuhelpcenter, now as I am giving this testimony I am now fully settle down with my husband now and we both loved ourselves, I give this testimony for people around that was in my shoes so that they can also be cured like me, so if you also need a solution also you can email him at [email]draihomuhelpcenter@gmail.com[/email],,,,,,,,,

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Andy_Lee_54601

Posted · Report

yes, thats a stupid question, as long as we are protected, then there is not worries xxxxx

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
arrenm

Posted · Report

If it is only a DATE why not. :)

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Canadian-Usa

Posted · Report

Of course.... Love has no limit. Just follow minimum of recommanded precautions.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

Yes. It's not a problem for me.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

Amazing article... Being gay and coming from A small country town I can tell you there is alot of hate about HIV/aids...and one thing everyone gets it from I'd the 1980s and 90s...but even then, it is 2015 almost 2016 and a lot of people are changing the way they see homosexuals. It's amazing. Only if we could all see this for what it really is then maybe we can find A peaceful way to live together seeing people_ not illness's.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

Oh La Hopkins, what an amazing article that rang so true. Thank you xxxx

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Similar articles

Forum discussions