Jun 2, 2013
I was diagnosed in 1989 and have been undetectable since 2000. Before 2000, when I still had a very high viral load, I had one 4 and one 5 year relationship, both with negative guys. In both, we had active sex lives and talked about safe sex. Both guys are still negative. In the last year, I've started dating again - mostly through legit dating web sites. Man, it's rough out there.
A number of guys have wigged out when I've had "the conversation" - always before genital sex. My favorite line was, "You are a really nice guy, but I can't risk my life." Wow! Another guy, who never inquired about status, was furious that I "put him at risk" by French kissing before I told him. On the other side, some guys still want to have unprotected sex after I've told them. Even many HIV+ guys I've met don't seem to understand that it's still not safe to have unprotected sex just because we're undetectable, or don't care? I've had extended interactions with maybe 20 guys. I've rarely gotten past this issue.
Is there any knowledge about when to share one's status, and more importantly, what to actually say? I'd like to have more dating success, of course - but bare minimum, I want to avoid further pounding of my self-esteem, which has plummeted with all this rejection. Last year, I didn't think my HIV diagnosis was that big a deal - a manageable health challenge. Now it feels like a huge issue. Maybe I'm expecting too much, maybe I'm misinformed, maybe I'm doing something wrong?! But it feels rough out there, and I'm thinking about just giving up. Any thoughts before I throw in the towel?
Response from Dr. Fawcett
Thanks for writing. You are certainly not alone in experiencing these frustrations including a direct assault on your self-esteem in such situations. Even if one has lived with the virus for many years, a new situation (especially dating) can bring all these issues back to life. There is still a high level of ignorance about HIV out there. Last year a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that one quarter of Americans still think you can get HIV by sharing household items such as drinking cups.
There is no single correct way or time to disclose, except, of course, before engaging in sexual behavior that could put your partner at risk. Some people like to announce it right away to minimize anxiety. Others put it in their profile to eliminate uncomfortable discussions from the beginning. You can read more articles about disclosure on TheBody here.
I would recommend finding some sort of peer group where you can discuss these concerns. The experience and wisdom of other men in this regard will be very valuable. There are also programs around the country such as Shanti's LIFE program which provide tools that are very helpful.
The bottom line is to use affirmations and other tools to ground yourself in such situations, remembering that you are just fine. If you can maintain this internal awareness of your own wellbeing, the impact of other people's reactions will be far less hurtful.
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