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HIV- BF emotionally destroyed by disclosure after sex

Sep 14, 2003

I am + female for 15 years, no viral load, 900+ T4 count and asymptomatic. Last relationship had unprotected sex by HIV- BF choice for 7 mos, and now 8 mos since last sex he has tested - twice negative. I recently met a man and we both feel we've found something we've always wanted. We had protected sex once, and I performed oral sex on him twice unprotected. He also has herpes which he disclosed to me. I told him about the HIV and he is emotionally devastated. He spoke to a counselor and they of course want to see me as they think I need therapy by virtue of my nondisclosure and having protected sex. I will do everything possible to work through this situation, but need to find a way to help him understand this was not a cavalier attitude on my part, I am informed about transmission, and did nothing intentionally or try to trick him (althoug he eluded to that). I will go for therapy, but am more concerned about his emotional health right now and want to help him understand he was not deceived or trapped and try to rebuild the trust between us based on the person I am outside of this nightmare I let happen. I know he needs time, but he also needs to get the right infomation about a +/- relationship and also needs to know I made a huge mistake that I know I did, and will live the rest of my life regretting this and want to help make his life better. We are both so distraught and separated now emotionally and mentally - he won't even take my calls. His parting words to me were that this is not so much about the HIV, but that he knew we could have had something special. Is there any hope here?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

I think that both his and the therapist's reaction that you necessarily "need therapy" simply on the basis that you did not disclose your HIV status to this man prior to having protected sex with him is in short...NUTS. After all if your HIV status was potentially such a big deal for him he could have asked you prior to the two of you having sex, and hopefully you would have answered him honestly. I am very concerned that since he did not ask you this, he is not accepting one half of the responsibility for the situation you both find yourself now in.

But the pain that you both are now experiencing provides a useful cautionary tale for you and all other POZ individuals regarding how to proceed in dating situations. Your situation clearly illustrates why it is generally always best to wait to have sex with someone you have met who you think you are very interested in exploring a relationship with, until you have told them that you are infected. This way if they would rather not have sex with you, you have been self protective of your own feelings by not having been sexual with them that only increases how vulnerable you can feel. At the same time you are behaivng very responsibly towards the other person's feelings and concerns as well. As painful as it always is to learn that someone with whom it feels that there is major chemistry and romance brewing shuts down when he or she learns that we are infected, I always counsel that learning how a person feels about our being POZ BEFROE WE BECOME SEXUAL generally provides us with tremendously useful data about whether this person is indeed someone we want to get even more involved with.

But obviously that is not an option for you. You have apologized and feel contrite. But unless he is willing to accept that by his not having asked you your HIV status he is equally at fault here, there is not any hope that this can be worked through. I say this because right now he sees himself as a victim and you as the person who did something bad to him. There is no collaborative sense in how the two of you got into this situation by cocreating it. Unless he moves into an emotional space that allows for this, then my guess is had it not been your HIV status, he would often be blaming you for other difficulty moments when they would have arisen in the relationship, instead of looking at how each of you shared responsibility for any unpleasantness that came up.

Aside from your being ready to speak with him and raise this perspective I don't think that that there is anything else you can or should do to try and save this relationship. If he comes around and the two of you work through this then you have sucessfully resolved your first big crisis, and the two of you move on stronger for having done so. But you can not do the emotional work for both of you, nor can you take on the full burden for having done something "terrible" to him. All you did was to fail to make the very best choice regarding your timing of self-disclosure. You had protected sex, and thus did not place him at risk.

I hope that this persepctive is helpful to you no matter how things turn out.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

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