I say to myself, when it comes to sexuality education, I'm not necessarily teaching you how to have sex -- I think you should be surprised and learn on your own -- but I think you should have all the tools so that you have a point of reference. You'll also know what's good for you and what's not good for you, and all these other things.
When it comes to HIV/AIDS education on the sexuality piece underneath that, I think you should be able to see all the preventative tools -- especially women with female condoms -- so that you know what they are, so that when you choose to engage, you also already know how to protect yourself and it's not an issue. I think it's more detrimental for me as an adult -- or even as a human being -- not to give you all the information so you can make your best choice. When I don't do that, I feel like I've let you down.
You're living with HIV, you have been for 25 years now, and you also work in an HIV organization that you founded. Do you ever just want to say, "No HIV today"? Do you ever get sick of talking about HIV and thinking about HIV all the time?
Oh, I talk HIV all the day! It's funny: It's just a part of me. It's always there -- it's never not there -- but I do have fun and do other things. Every once in a while I get fortunate enough to be able to go on a trip or a vacation where I'm not really talking about HIV/AIDS and I'm not expected to, although it will come up because somebody somewhere will ask me what I do, and I'll say, "Well, I work in disease prevention." They'll ask me, "What does that mean?" and I have to tell them. For me it's not so much of a work part, it's more of a human part, so it's just a part of some of the things that I do. It's just as if somebody asked me about faith. I'm not reluctant to tell, because I'm about what I think. It's just a piece of me. But yes: If I didn't have some other things to talk about, it would become rough.
I'm like everybody else: I like to talk about the price of gas and how I can't afford to do certain things anymore. There are other things I do talk about, so it's not always HIV.
Could you compare how you feel about having HIV now to your feelings when you first learned you were HIV positive?
I can still say I wish I didn't have it. That's still true. As I get older, I wish I didn't have it. But because I do and I've come to learn to live with it, it's just one of those things that I have to monitor, and I just have to be honest with myself and take care of myself to the best of my ability.
But I do view it as a disease, and I think maybe that's been the bigger thing for me. I've never viewed it as anything but a disease. For now, it seems not as scary and a little bit more manageable. I don't know what tomorrow will bring with it, but right now it's manageable.
How do you think having HIV has changed you?
I think it's made me more aware of medical issues that other people have that are non-HIV-related. I have a niece who's had some difficulties in her chest area where she's had to have major surgery on both of her breasts. I think I probably was a little bit more compassionate when she was going through that at the age of 20 than I might have been had I not gone through living with HIV. As a man, I think that's always a little difficult for us. [Laughs.] It sounds a little sexist, but I do believe that women are a little more nurturing than we are. Just a tad bit.
In addition to taking your meds, do you do anything else to keep healthy? Do you stick to a special diet?
This is where my doctor probably would like me to work a little bit more. I probably should exercise a little bit more. I always like to say I'm about 20 pounds overweight. I should probably be at around 200 pounds; I stay around 215 pounds.
I actually really haven't changed my eating habits, because whatever I've been doing for all these years, my cholesterol and everything else seems to be fine. I guess I eat enough fruits and vegetables and drink enough water, but I don't really have a plan of action for it. It's just something that I've always continually done in the same way.
Do you know your CD4 count now and your viral load now?
What advice would you give someone who just found out that he or she is HIV positive?
To understand that it's not the end of the world. Confer with specialists who know a little bit about the disease. Think about what's best for you, but be willing to do it in collaboration with doctors. If you find that you don't like the doctor that you're working with, find another one right away. I think those would be the things that I would say to start to work with.
With that, we've got to bring this interview to a close. Thank you so much for talking to me today! It's been an absolute pleasure, Oliver. Thank you so much.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.