falling in love
Oct 29, 2003
Dr. Bob, I have come to really appreciate and depend on your sensible, and sound advice.
Several months ago I entered a grad program and met a man. I was dating someone at the time (a relationship I knew was going nowhere) and this new man swept me off my feet.
We are both in education (care about the same things.) He has a fierce intelligence, is crazy sexy, and is absolutely caring. He is also HIV +. I'm negative.
I have always fancied myself to be quite hip and progressive when it comes to HIV. I was an HIV/AIDS educator for a year. (I include sex ed -- complete with a couple days on STD's --in my 6th grade science curriculum.) People I love and care about are positive.
I'd be remiss not to admit, however, that I've made two 1 a.m. phone calls to the CA HIV/AIDS hotline to (embarassingly) ask for reassurance on things i know to be true. (One of these calls resulted in the man on the other end of the line laughing OUT LOUD at my question and irrationality. Now I KNOW I was thinking like a fool but you can't tell me they're not trained to NOT laugh at their callers!) :)
Anyway, after a few months, I've decided I'm falling in love with this man. He has lots of "rules" around sex. (No kissing until 2 hours after brushing teeth, no contact whatsoever with his semen, etc.) Nevertheless, I still find myself fretting over exposure.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that i want facts. I want assurance (which may be imposible). I want someone to say I can do these things, and I can not do these things, and still remain safe.
I feel selfish and privileged that I'm in this position, but I want to stay negative.
Can you speak plainly to me about how I can best try to remain this way while still affirming a growing love for this man I feel so lucky to have met?
N.Cal. Teacher with Issues
Response from Dr. Frascino
Hi N. Cal. Teacher with Issues,
You are looking for "someone" to tell you exactly what you and your honey should do between the sheets? Yes, you're correct. That's impossible. Let me ask you who decides for you when you step off a curb to cross a busy intersection, or get on an airplane, or bungee jump completely naked off the Brooklyn Bridge? You do! The same thing applies to sex. We all engage in calculated risk analyses multiple times every day. For instance, you could decide never to cross the street and thereby essentially eliminate any possibility of ever being run down by that proverbial bus. Similarly, you could decide never to have sex and therefore essentially eliminate any risk of HIV (or other STD) transmission. For most of us, never crossing the street (or never having sex) is not a viable option. So we each weight the known risks and then decide when and if to cross, ride, jump naked, or whatever.
Magnetic couples (one HIV-positive, the other negative) need to decide and agree upon what level of risk (or no risk) they are comfortable with. Sex and intimacy are supposed to be pleasurable, not worrisome! The only way to resolve "fretting over exposure" is to realistically draw your own boundaries for safer sex. I can't set your specific limits for negotiated risk, which is perhaps better termed "negotiated safety." No one can! You and your partner need to review all the readily available information on safer sex techniques and the various risks associated with various activities. The information can be found on this site and related links. If you have specific questions, you can send them to me or discuss them with your boyfriend and his HIV specialist.
I should also let you know that I, too, am part of a magnetic couple. Steve (Dr. Natterstad, the expert on The Body's Tratamientos Forum) reminds me of your new beau - "fierce intelligence, crazy sexy, and absolutely caring." To that, I could add a long list of superlatives - drop dead handsome, appreciative of my twisted sense of humor, compassionate HIV specialist, talented musician, a fan of foreign movies, "Sex in the City," and "Six Feet Under", and the list could go on and on and on. So let's just say he's not only the "wind beneath my wings" but also my "happy ever after." We've been together for a decade and the sex, which started out as transcendental, has done nothing but get better. Let me share with you some of what's worked so well for us:
1. Communication is key.
2. We accept each other as different.
3. Discussing what we each feel is safe or unsafe, based on our individual comfort level and the medical facts.
4. Being HIV-positive, I feel better knowing Steve, being HIV-negative, shares the worry and responsibility of possible infection.
5. Realizing that if an accident occurs and there is an exposure, that PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is available.
For us, sex is not a luxury that we could easily do without. There really is no reasonable substitute that is anywhere near as pleasurable. One of the great things about begin alive is having sex. It's as important to HIV-positives as it is to HIV-negatives. A healthy expression of sexuality is an integral part of general good health.
OK, so now it's up to you to decide what to do. The 1 a.m. phone calls to the AIDS hotlines to "ask for reassurance on things you know to be true" aren't really helpful. (You are correct, they really aren't supposed to laugh - at least not until after they give you the information and you hang up!)
If, by chance, you decide that positive-guy is not your Mr. Right, that's OK too. But, if that's the case, I have a long list of folks who would love to snap up a "fiercely intelligent, crazy sexy, absolutely caring" guy. So just let me know, OK?
Your "issues" are not uncommon or unanticipated, and please know there are workable solutions to your concerns.
Good luck. I hope your relationship works out as well as mine. If so, you'll be one lucky lady (or guy!).
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