HIV. Just seeing those three letters together can elicit terrifying thoughts and emotions.
Yes, HIV brings with it a cruel past.
Yes, an HIV diagnosis can be awful.
Yes, we must keep top of mind the generations of people we’ve lost to HIV over the years.
No, HIV, and those living with HIV, are not to be feared.
I often get asked how dating changed after my HIV diagnosis. To be perfectly honest, it was not so fun—but over time I’ve found the language to talk about it, and discovered how talking about it openly can be extremely beneficial.
Stigma and shame take root when truth and representation are absent. Today, my HIV status is the most managed thing in my life – think about that! When on proper medication, HIV is simply an invisible and chronic health issue. It doesn’t run my life.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable about HIV but I encourage you to think about why that is because, again, people with HIV are not to be feared. And you may find you meet someone with an HIV diagnosis that you want to date. So here are my top three tips on how to be informed, respectful, and confident when dating someone who is HIV-positive.
Tip 1: Know your stuff
The first thing to know about HIV today is that U=U: Undetectable + Untransmittable = Zero Risk. Full stop. This means that people diagnosed with HIV, who remain on proper and consistent medication to keep the HIV virus down to an undetectable level in lab tests, cannot transmit the virus and as a result, carry zero risk of spreading the virus to sexual partners. The guidance on ‘zero risk’ was also affirmed earlier this year by the World Health Organization.
Tip 2: Have empathy.
No matter the stage of the dating journey you’re on, it’s important to remind yourself that if someone is sharing their status with you, they obviously see you as someone safe enough to share that experience with. That’s a big deal. You’ve created a space and connection for that kind of sharing, which, despite the new realities around HIV today, is never easy to talk about and articulate. Take a step back and put yourself in their shoes, for just a moment, and think through the steps they might have taken—mentally, physically, emotionally—before sharing their story with you. Like any other coming out, there is no true timeline or guidebook to do so. So be gentle and caring with someone’s story when they share it with you.
Tip 3: Talk it out.
It’s okay to ask questions – correction – PLEASE ask questions! Get consent before asking deep questions, but it’s totally understandable—we don’t know what we don’t know, right? For example, if you want to learn more about someone’s diagnosis, it would be most respectful first if you prefaced your question with something like: “Would you be comfortable if I asked you about your experience around your diagnosis?” Part of talking things out together and learning new context is asking how someone might be most comfortable in talking about their experience.