“Honey, I’m done raising you. Now, it’s simply my job as your mother to love you no matter what. But don’t think I’m going to withhold my opinions. I’m entitled to that just like you; but that should never get in the way of me showing my love.”
In the same vein, let me say that, no matter what I advise or express as a defensible argument, what you do as an HIV-poz or negative person, how you act sexually, socially, politically or inwardly, is ultimately up to you.
This is the third and final column addressing methods of status disclosure as it relates to dating HIV-neg partners. As elucidated in my past two columns, people possess widely varying degrees of knowledge about HIV transmission. And to further complicate matters, a simple Google search will illustrate the vastly opposing stances studies and experts take on the topic.
Sadly, this means that while you could offer potential HIV-neg suitors numerous portals of information, at the end of the day, they won’t have any solid answers and will have to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with.
That’s how it was and still is, to a certain extent, with my current boyfriend. When we met, I disclosed my status to him. As we dated long distance and he read some of my past columns, he expressed that he wanted to know more. And so he read a lot, spoke to several people and talked at length with me. For both of us, this took a great deal of patience. Because we, like other sero-discordant couples, weren’t merely interested in safety, but balancing transmission risks with quality of life.
Yes. You might think that “quality of life” is a convenient equivocation for straight-up bareback sex. In a sense it is, but in another, it’s esteeming the purpose of a healthy, enjoyable sex life, which people are quick to denigrate in American culture. So long as a couple shares full consent and is prepared to accept the risks of ostensibly unsafe behavior, then amen.
My boyfriend and I never use condoms for oral sex, given either way, or when I bottom. As for me topping him, I simply don’t do it. We’re still researching options and assessing transmission risks, because, again, we’re trying to actualize our definition of a quality sex life — the key phrase there being “our definition.” At this point with our comfort level, if I really wanted to top him I would use a condom.
I’m very happy with our sex life; however, for a while, the risk of infecting him ate at me like the plague. When I voiced my concern, begging him to think and respond honestly, this is what he said:
“I want to be as healthy for you as I possibly can, but I will never regret anything I’ve done with you.”
Yes. I love my boyfriend. I’ll say, however, that I have to be careful not to lump in his acceptance of my HIV status with my love for him, when in reality, it’s just an impasse. That’s not to say sensitivity is optional. I’m sure every HIV-poz person, in varying degrees, struggles with HIV’s stigma, and, when they’re in a sero-discordant relationship, makes knee-jerk comparisons between themselves and their partners.
I don’t care how you feel about being HIV: You must learn to voice your needs. Expect compassion and don’t shortchange yourself. Nothing about your worthwhileness has changed just because you’re poz, and that goes for your values as well. Everybody on this planet has some sort of struggle that bears no difference in quality or kind to that of being HIV poz. Learn to care for yourself, so you know what you should expect from others, and to others, what you should give.
We’re all in this together, folks. Now get out there and talk about it.
Aaron Stella is former editor-in-chief of Philly Broadcaster. Since graduating from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in English, he has written for several publications in the city, and now devotes his life to tackling the challenges of HIV in the 21st century.