Lucky for me, I have been fortunate enough to find people who still want to date me after I disclose that I am HIV positive. But if they stick around after I disclose, there is another reason why I get anxiety when it comes to dating—as if disclosure isn’t difficult enough, right? I have to deal with what happens after disclosure. The part where I now have to educate my partner on how to be intimate with me.
I guess I should be grateful for the fact that I found someone who is open to the idea of dating someone with HIV. But I can’t even begin to explain how annoying it is to have to teach someone how to love you. And I don’t mean love in the emotional sense—I mean love in the physical sense.
Sex is not merely physical for me, it is mental as well. The way a woman feels about her own genitals plays a role, too, as does her ability to relax, to let go, and to feel sexually excited or aroused. The best way to kill the vibe during sex is seeing the fear and worry on your partner’s face when it comes to the thought of having sex with you, or hearing the question, “So what can we do and not do?” I mean, I’m trying to do everything! I am trying to explore my sexuality, just like you.
It’s frustrating trying to convince someone that it is OK to make love to you, because you are undetectable—that HIV is not as transmissible as people think it is, especially when you are using a condom. Or feeling the hesitancy of your partner when they are penetrating you, or the thought deep down inside any time someone refuses to taste you that maybe they are afraid or nervous or they think you’re not clean. Or the uncomfortable shuffling of our bodies and the blankets as I resort to covering my vulnerability because I no longer feel safe or sexy.
The vibe is dead now. I am turned off. I don’t even want to do it anymore. It’s no longer pleasurable or fun, but I mean, I have to be understanding of their fear. I am always so understanding of the fact that not everyone isn’t as educated on the topic of HIV/AIDS as I am, not everyone is aware of the advancements of treatment and the facts that studies have proven: that treatment is a means of prevention, so it reduces a person’s viral load, and someone who is HIV positive on treatment can be undetectable and not able to pass on the virus, with or without a condom (undetectable equals untransmittable, or U=U). Thank God for U=U, because finally it means that I can love without fear.
Sex is supposed to be natural, not shameful. It is supposed to be pleasurable and fun, not painful or disheartening. It’s supposed to be exciting and arousing; an adventure of exploring one another’s bodies, in all of our nasty humanity. It’s supposed to be uninhibited and orgasmic. In order to survive as individuals and reproduce so that we can survive as a species, our physical needs must be met. Food, water, air, safety, shelter, warmth, health, and sex are basic physiological needs. One cannot reach self-actualization or realize one’s full potential without their first basic physiological needs being met.
But historically, the way we have been taught to think about sex is from a very sex-negative approach. As a means of control, religion has taught us that sex is only supposed to be between husband and wife, man and woman. That sex outside of marriage is adultery. That same-sex marriage is illegal. That sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a punishment for our sins. The demonization of sex and sexuality is complex, especially regarding female sexuality and the double standard that is “player” versus “hoe.” If a woman has sex with multiple men and explores her sexuality, she is considered a hoe, but a man is considered a player.
When we are told that having sex is shameful, we fail to develop the skills to communicate with our partners about sex and all the complications that come with it. We also fail to engage in introspection, which would help us sort out complex feelings, urges, and preferences. That makes it even harder to talk to our sexual partners, and it keeps us from asking questions to medical providers or other sources of guidance who could help.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to sexual dissatisfaction and decreased bonding between partners.
It’s like I am paying for the negative, unhealthy ways in which we all deal with sex. I am not the one with the problem here—society is. Society as a whole has major intimacy Issues, and we haven’t quite figured out how to properly address or resolve them yet.
In her poem called, “Sexy Self Love,” HIV activist Kelly Kluckman states, “It’s like I’m constantly fighting to live in a world that I think should exist. … A world that isn’t afraid of me, because the truth is common sense.”
I also would like to acknowledge that not all of my partners have been scared or uncomfortable being intimate with me, but I have experienced this quite often. And it sucks.