I fell in love (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)
Since being diagnosed with HIV, my sex life has taken a tumble.
I was in a relationship at the time, which eventually crumbled partly because my partner couldn’t handle my diagnosis.
After barely accepting being HIV+, I couldn’t see how a future partner would be comfortable with something that I still hadn’t quite come to terms with.
I was fearful when I did start dating again, even though I have undetectable status, which means that as long as I take my medication daily, there’s a 0% chance of my passing on the virus.
Putting myself back out there worried me, and this anxiety manifested itself in self-doubt. I got it into my head that I wasn’t taking my medication properly and could still pass it on – even though I knew I was. I let the prejudice around HIV get to me and it impacted my ability to meet someone new.
It felt like only a matter of time before someone broke it off with me again.
I started seeing someone and from the off, the uneasiness I felt got in the way of our relationship. It even affected my body language: we barely even kissed, we were tense and distant.
When we went our separate ways a few months later, he confessed that our failing sex life was largely due to his and my own insecurities regarding my status.
I let the prejudice around HIV get to me and it impacted my ability to meet someone new
This revelation undid a lot of the progress I though I’d made and all my own worries about having HIV were seemingly confirmed and my trust was shattered.
I expected it would take months to build the confidence back up to sleep with someone else, so I was surprised when it happened, only around 10 weeks later. But then, Nick* was different.
Having shared my HIV experience online from the outset, Nick got in touch via Twitter to say he had a similar journey. We became pen pals of sorts and formed a connection on a level that few other people could understand.
Nick allowed me to become vulnerable faster, and in a matter of weeks, we were chatting daily about a range of topics – from our HIV diagnoses to friends, family, and even dating.
I listened to him confide that he was growing tired of feeling alone; I rejoiced with him as he met somebody, then consoled him when that ultimately ended soon after.
A couple of weeks later, I went to visit him for the first time. The connection was instant. Our walls were non-existent, and it felt like being in the company of someone I had known years.
We couldn’t stop laughing at each other, giddy, and in reflection, I look back on this early time together as one long date. Yet we had been such strong pillars of support for each other, and I didn’t want to risk that for the sake of short-term pleasure.
On an evening walk on the last night of my trip, we were walking in the woods and as the dark evening set in, we realised we were lost so clasped hands to ensure we wouldn’t get separated – but both kept holding on long after we needed to.
There was a moment I thought we could have kissed, and while we both resisted, we ended up having sex when we arrived back at his flat.
It happened organically, without conversation, and was intimate and affectionate. It was one of the best nights I’ve had this year.
HIV did not cross my mind once. Knowing the person I was sleeping with also had HIV allowed me to fully shed any insecurities.
What was left was pure pleasure, but most importantly, it gave me the confidence that I sorely needed.
While Nick soon made it clear that he wanted more than just a one-time fling, I felt a certain sense of closure from my experience, and overall from our brief romantic entanglement. I saw the experience as an experiment; ‘Could I have sex without feeling insecure?’. It turns out that I could.
Sex was a hurdle that I needed to overcome. It was the first time either of us had slept with someone else who was HIV positive and sharing something so special somehow removed any anxiety I felt around sex – all sex.
Before, I was fearful that I’d be judged, or that my partner would be apprehensive for lack of their own education around HIV; I was scared they’d be unable to fully commit to the moment or wondering if there was ‘that little chance’ that they’d catch HIV. By giving in to these anxiety-driven thoughts, I was ruining the experience for myself.
Having sex with someone who was HIV positive reminded me that it’s just sex, and I allowed myself to remember that it’s pretty damn enjoyable when you do it right.
I reminded myself that I’m pretty good at it, too, when I’m not stuck in my own head, and actually allow myself to fully immerse myself in the moment.
I became more confident about my undetectable status because I am unable to transmit the virus even if I have unprotected sex. I gained my confidence instantly, and it was proof that I could thoroughly enjoy sex again like I did before I was living with HIV.
It’s almost as if a reset button has been pressed and I have the ability to live life with newfound strength. I accept myself on a new level and no longer have any fear that would stop me from sleeping with somebody who is HIV negative. I no longer need to shy away from my condition.
Nick and I settled into a friendship and I haven’t slept with anybody else yet, as I’ve decided to wait until I find somebody that I feel a similar, if not stronger, connection to.
But having dated a little bit recently, the topic of HIV has always come up quite quickly. Not only do I find it an icebreaker, but it also acts as a moral compass.
There still may be a stigma for people living with HIV, but that’s on the ignorant people who choose to perpetuate that – not me. Any person who has a problem with my diagnosis is somebody I wouldn’t want to sleep with anyway.
I know that romantic relationships start with a foundation of trust, and until I see any ‘red flags’, I’ll be entering them with just that; my insecurities surrounding my diagnosis are gone.
I’m ready to be myself, fully.
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