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Loss of sexual interest and HIV

Jul 19, 1999

Dear Mike , I am a 28 year old woman who was diagnosed with hiv in 1996. I have dated casually since my diagnosis with nothing really serious until four months ago when I met a man that I really care for . He is hiv negative knows of my diagnosis and wants to stay with me anyway . The only problem is he wants to become intimate and lately I have no sexual desire not just for him but a total loss of sexual interest in anyone . This is not like me to be unresponsive sexually to a person I care deeply for. What is even stranger is that I think I may have chosen to date a negative man in order to have an excuse to avoid sexuality. Lately it seem all strong emotions are overwhelming to me and I'm feeling cut off from all my feelings. I had a physical to rule out any other condition causing my lack of desire but other than the HIV I'm fine. Have you ever seen this before ? Please help me lately I feel like a robot!

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Yes I have heard similar stories before. Sometimes the antiretrovirals a person is taking makes him or her not feel sexually responsive. But more often it is an emotional reaction that is very complex. There is no simple way to fix this. The two suggestions I have are to either join a support group for other HIV positive people or just HIV positive women where you will be able to talk about the issue of your being sexually active with other people who are wrestling with the same thing and/or begin individual counseling wiht a professional who is expert at working with people with HIV.

With HIV being a sexually transmitted disease and still carrying such a strong stigma, there remains alot of shame that many people with HIV carry around with them even if they are not consciously aware of these feelings. Thus the feelings of being "damaged goods" or a carrier of a disease can contribute to a person shutting down his or her sexual interest. Additionally there is the deep unconscious emotional baggage of not wanting to burden someone we love with the possibility of having to take care of us if we ever become ill since this is a potentially life threatening illness.

Combine these dynamics with the reality that increasing numbers of people with HIV and AIDS are living longer and regaining their health that results in their being in exactly the position you now find yourself in. If you are not now in a support group and counseling it owuld be an excellent time for you to begin. Best of luck with your new romance. Michael Shernoff, MSW

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