Author: Communciations

Some of the trade-offs and compromises gay men living with HIV made before the days of TasP and PrEP and the long-term pay-offs for David today. 

The most obvious trade-off which almost all people living with HIV make, at some stage in their lives, is withdrawing from dating and the possibility of intimacy. Even for those in established relationships where an HIV-positive diagnosis can mean sero-discordance (partners of different HIV status), relations will usually need to be re-negotiated in terms of condom use and this often involves trust issues.

Well, that used to be the case.

Now with the developments of treatment as prevention (TasP) and PrEP some of this is changing, although we HIV-positives still know that HIV stigma is still real and rejection still occurs on a regular basis if your status is revealed upfront.

When I look back at my sex life over the past thirty-three years since my diagnosis, I know that I avoided commitment and the chance of intimacy too many times because I feared rejection and the chance that any potential partner might think less of me if I revealed my status upfront. Far easier to use condoms in late night trysts in back rooms or saunas and not have to risk ugly scenes and even anger when details were shared - something that happened a few times in my early naive days of living with HIV and telling partners straight off, in the effort to do ‘the responsible thing’.

Going through my head as I mulled over the chances of a long-term relationship were thoughts like, "What would happen if I was to get sick with an AIDS illness?”; “Would a partner want to be put through that ordeal?" (HIV-negative friends have admitted to me, that ideas like these were considerations for them in taking on a positive partner in the 80s and 90s). I wondered about the stress on a HIV-negative partner worrying that a condom might break or that you just don't use one every now and then? Another very real scenario as anyone in a pos-neg relationship will attest.

There were a few HIV-negative partners who came along and didn't care about my status. As one said to me, "Well you're honest to me about your status -- there are bound to be many sex partners I've had who say they were negative and actually weren't and others who just don't test and don't know." He was a wise and handsome man and even now I wonder why I let him go. Probably because I couldn't adjust my internal mindset that said, "You're not relationship material; you'll just be a burden to them one way or another."

Of course I tried to date other HIV-positive men. For much of my more active sexual years (they're winding down a bit these days!) there were so few dating sites where people were open about their status. The most prominent exceptions were the bareback sex sites. Now I'm willing to be corrected here, but the possibility of developing a long-term committed relationship on a bareback site always seemed slim to me. They were particularly for men who wanted casual sex without commitment and they have their place. I found a couple of great fuck-buddies but in most cases they were on the site because they wanted a bit of extra unprotected sex outside of a committed relationship (often pos-neg). Or I suspect, I also hooked up with other pos guys who didn't see themselves as relationship material for the same reason as me or simply because they didn't want one, regardless.

I'm not sure I suffered hugely as the result of not having a long-term relationship -- although maybe you don't know if you haven't been in one (my longest was twelve months pre-HIV). Today, I have wonderfully supportive friends and family. I haven't needed a partner to bolster my confidence or tackle life's big problems and I have great friends who will lend an ear for such things.

I also know that it's probably unfair to solely blame HIV for not having a long-term relationship. As a gay man coming out in the seventies, I probably adopted certain behavioural patterns from the Gay Lib, sexual liberation era that have stayed with me to some degree, anyway.

But HIV did play a role. It was a trade-off that was a product of a difficult time when sex with an HIV-positive gay man had very real dangers for someone of a different status. I really hope those days are disappearing now with the new technologies available to both positive and negative people and their partners, regardless of status.

David Menadue

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