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Sex and Living with HIV

July 2001

Sexual intimacy is essential to well being. All human beings need to touch and be touched. Yet people living with HIV are often denied touch because of other people's ignorance; or they themselves shy away from touch because of shame, pain, or fear of HIV transmission. It shouldn't and doesn't have to be that way. Honest, informed and safe discussions (especially with yourself!) about desire, HIV, and transmission are the keys to fulfilling sexual intimacy.

Testing positive for HIV forces many women to really think about, and talk about, sex for the first time. While this may feel hard, it's actually really good! It can get you in touch with your health, your history, and your sexual desires. This is an incredible opportunity -- one that many women, positive and negative, simply miss.

Our desire for sexual intimacy changes over time depending on many factors, including our environment, our opportunities or where we are in our lives. Stress, illness, depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, hormonal changes, sickness, and how we have been treated in relationships can diminish our interest in sex. HIV itself can be a deterrent for sex, as sex is often associated with getting HIV. Recognizing that sex needn't stop after an HIV diagnosis is an important part of facing and adapting to one's HIV status. This often takes time.

There are things that can rejuvenate our interest in sex, including the emotional healing, strong self-image, health, and just missing physical intimacy. Becoming informed about safer sex and, if possible, having safe and open discussions with your sexual partner(s), can enhance sex. This can be hard at first. But safer sex, with or without disclosure, is a necessary fact for everybody.

For more information on safer sex, read the article in Wise Words #4 entitled "Sex and Transmission: A Continued Concern for HIV-Positive Women."


Enhancing Your Sex Life

Here are some helpful tips for enhancing your sexual life. They may not be, or work, for everybody, but considering them can't hurt.
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  • Talk to other positive women you know and trust about sex, be it a friend or a support group. Knowing that other positive women worry about, miss, or have fulfilling sex makes you fell less alone and, admit it, can be fun!
  • When you're ready, talk about your HIV status. The more you learn to live with and talk about HIV, the more you'll be able to incorporate sex into your life again.
  • Explore your own sexual desires. Start reading about sex. There are great books for women these days. Consider keeping a journal and writing down your thoughts, fears, and interests.
  • Enhance your general health -- physical, emotional, and psychological. Feeling fit in body and mind can help get you in touch with your desires -- and be able to fulfill them.
  • Explore resources for women about sex. A great resource is Good Vibrations, a terrific women-owned store that has wonderful books and toys for women located in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have a free catalogue (they ship anywhere in the world!) and can be reached at www.goodvibes.com.


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