When your Partner is HIV positive and you're not

Since the end of the last century few diseases have evoked so much fear and concern as AIDS. While the prime reason for this continues to be the fact that a definite and complete cure has continued to elude scientists, another equally strong cause remains the confusion and misconception over how AIDS is transmitted. This has created a lot of stigma towards HIV positive people, especially in the context of personal relationships. Here are a few things to keep in mind when your partner is HIV positive and you're not.

Be sure

There are two situations where you may find yourself involved with an HIV positive person. The first is when you were drawn to a great guy or girl and he/she simply happened to be an HIV positive partner – a fact which did not bother you at any time; in other words you entered into a sero different or sero-discordant relationship with your eyes open. Another more serious situation is when you have been in a relationship with someone for some time and then he/she is diagnosed as HIV positive. In case of the latter, if you have been sexually intimate with each other, it is crucial that you are completely sure of your own status. If you know you are HIV negative but it has been some time since you got yourself tested, do it again since at times HIV may take as much as three months to show up in tests, in case of people who are slow to develop the HIV antibodies. Once you know the truth about your own health, you will not only be able to make the correct choices in the relationship but more importantly take decisions about your own future from a position of empowerment and not compulsion.

Be informed

If you are in a serious relationship with your HIV partner it may be worth your while to find out more about the disease, even though you may not be HIV positive yourself. AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a disease that weakens the human immune system to the point when it can no longer fight off infections and results in death unless treatment is started. In the context of a sero-different romantic relationship, it would be even more important for you to be acquainted with the means of transmission of HIV virus. According to the Center for Disease Control of the US Department of Health and Human Services 1 the most common ways for the transmission of HIV infection are through exchange of specific body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk from the HIV-infected to the non-infected person. These particular fluids must come into contact with the mucous membrane, a damaged tissue or be injected directly into the blood stream for the infection to transmission of HIV to take place. But even If your partner is asymptomatic, don’t dismiss the potential threat that HIV can pose to the health of both you and your partner. If your partner chooses the rigorous daily regimen of HAART therapy, you can participate in his treatment by helping him maintain a regular medication schedule. At the same time though, do not assume full responsibility for your partner’s treatment program. That can burn you out quickly and even lead to feelings of resentment. Once you have a clear idea about the virus, its modes of transmission and treatment, you shall be in a better position to love and support your HIV positive partner

What is not dangerous?

The actions which part of normal dating behavior are highly unlikely to cause you to be affected by the virus. Since the transmission of the HIV takes place only through exchange of certain body fluids, it is completely safe to hold your partner's hands, sit and walk beside him/her and even hug and embrace him/her. It is also completely safe for you to share food and drinks as well as eating utensils. However your partner may have to keep off certain foods and most definitely drinks and cigarettes during treatment for AIDS. So when planning to go out keep in mind these restrictions and do not engage in activities that can be tiring or physically dangerous for your partner.

Whether or not to kiss

The fact that HIV is transmitted through specific body fluids has brought kissing, especially the kind that is known as wet kissing, into focus. The CDC website is quite categorical that the highest concentration of HIV virus resides in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and bodily fluid containing blood. The CDC website clarifies that the possibility of transmission of HIV/AIDS depends on what kind of kissing involved. Closed mouth kissing where there is no exchange of saliva is completely safe and there is no risk of infection even when being kissed by a HIV-infected person. However in case of open mouth kissing particularly ‘French kissing’, the saliva might contain traces of blood which can theoretically transmit HIV from the infected to the non-infected partner. This is particularly likely when the HIV-infected person has sore, bleeding gums as a result of which the saliva might contain blood. So even though chances of HIV/AIDS transmission by deep, open-mouth kissing are low as compared to sexual activity, still it is theoretically possible. However closed mouth kissing involves no danger of transmission.

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Practice safe sex

If you are in a sero-different relationship, it does not mean that you have to turn into celibates. In any romantic relationship, physical intimacy plays an important role for mutual satisfaction  but if you are involved with an HIV-infected person, it is crucial that you and your partner practice safe sex. It is best if you can entirely refrain from penetrative sexual intercourse and limit acts of intimacy to kissing, caressing, touching and mutual masturbation. However if there is sexual penetration - whether oral, vaginal or anal - take protective measures so that you can minimize the likelihood of transmission of the HIV virus. The best way to go about this is through the proper usage of condoms and lubricants. This includes checking for the expiry date of the condoms, proper handling and tearing of the packaging, as well as the correct method of wearing the condoms with an air reservoir at the tip. At the same time regularly apply water-based lubricants since this will reduce friction during sexual intercourse, thus minimizing the possibility of condom tear and breakage.

HIV can invade nearly every aspect of a couple’s life: from sex to handling large medical bills to making important life decisions, such as whether or not to start a family. Like many other couples who cope with chronic illness, that means living with uncertainty, which can strain the strongest of relationships. Under such circumstances open and honest communication can help you and your partner address many unspoken and obvious fears about the disease. Finally, whether a relationship is or is not sero-different, the needs of both partners have equal worth. Discuss these issues often with your partner. Your relationship has many dimensions, not just HIV-related concerns and so to keep your love happy and healthy, nurture all aspects of your life together.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - HIV Transmission