Can I Stop Using Condoms?

Dear Christine,

I am HIV positive and have a boyfriend that just tested negative for the second time in six months after we had unsafe sex. We both agree on keeping our sexual relationship monogamous but unlike my partner, I want to stop to using condoms completely. After I first tested positive, we started practicing safe sex, but prior to my testing positive we never did. Since the positive result, he’s afraid of my bodily fluids and our sex life has totally changed.

Having only safe sex with my partner goes against what I know about HIV tests and the real risks for AIDS. We are both very healthy and have no STDs. I try to reason with him about why condoms aren’t necessary, but so far he’s unwilling to trust me. What do you think I should do?

John

Dear John,

As someone who tests HIV positive, I think it's imperative that we allow our partners to arrive at their own level of comfort with regard to our positive HIV status. We must let them acquire an independent understanding of the facts and draw their own conclusions about HIV and AIDS instead of accepting on faith what we regard to be true. Faith can be shaken, but facts are not easily dispelled or forgotten in times of crisis—and every person, every relationship will certainly face moments of crisis.

Unless your partner makes his own decision about what is safe, he will substitute one authority (the AIDS establishment) for another authority (you) without taking responsibility for his choices. In most cases, this is a recipe for disaster.

I know a man who entered a relationship with someone who tested positive and who dismissed HIV as the cause of AIDS. This man agreed with what his partner thought rather than thinking for himself and never investigated the issues on his own. His partner believed safe sex wasn’t necessary so he believed it too. Several years later this man ended up testing HIV positive. I have no idea if their relationship was monogamous, but I do know they now blame each other for the situation and blame others for the decisions they made.

I’ve also known HIV positives who made decisions about stopping AIDS treatment under pressure from concerned partners rather than on their own with the support of their partner. At the first cold or fever, they usually run back to the drugs, resentful toward the person that “made” them do something they weren’t truly prepared for. Without an independent and integrated understanding of the facts, faith in the alternative authority can easily crumble.

I don’t think any adult, positive or negative, has the right to dictate what other adults should think or do with regard to HIV and AIDS. And in my opinion, no one on any side of the AIDS issue should ever attempt to persuade a partner into sexual activity that is not truly consensual or that is physically or emotionally uncomfortable. At the same time I know very well how difficult it can be to respect the opinions and ideas of others when you feel great passion for an issue. I also know the rejection that a positive HIV status can bring.

Back in 1993, a year after testing positive, I met a smart, funny, handsome guy who knew nothing of my HIV status. He was the first person I dated after testing HIV positive and even thinking about revealing my situation made my stomach, head and heart ache. After I told him, he proceeded with a caution that left me feeling like nuclear waste, which hurt even more than total rejection. But out of love and respect, I could not push him to take what he believed were risks or try to convince him of my own conclusions. I waited more than a year for him to reach his own understanding of the information, and ultimately he decided to forgo condoms. Ironically, he was killed in an accident three months later. You just never know with life…

Testing HIV positive naturally brings up difficult issues surrounding love, fear and rejection for both partners. I think a respectful and loving partner gives his significant other the time and space to decide how to respond, and that imploring or pushing will not be of help and may jeopardize the entire relationship.

I wish it were easier!

Take care,

Christine

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References

to Risk Realities FAQ's - Receiving Oral Sex from HIV Positive Partner

to Africa In Perspective