I’m a bisexual woman living in a major city. My boyfriend of about a year is HIV-positive. He’s been undetectable for more than a decade, but I’m on PrEP, just to be double-back-flip safe. I trust science and I’m comfortable with this, in part thanks to your clear and honest conversations around HIV. We have been talking about playing with other couples or singles, but I’m super nervous about contracting herpes, and he agrees he doesn’t need that in his life either. I know it’s part of the risk and I’m aware of all the stigma around having/getting herpes and other STIs. The thing is, I would like to have a very open conversation with our future hookups about testing and STI status. The problem: my partner does not disclose his status. Only a handful of people in his life know. Not even his family knows. How do...
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...ife know. Not even his family knows. How do we go about having a transparent conversation with potential hookups about status and risk if he’s not comfortable disclosing his HIV-positive status? We live in a state where it’s not illegal to withhold this information. Is lying the only option?
Risk Adverse Dame
First, a quick refresher on the science: If someone with HIV is taking their meds and has an undetectable viral load, that person is un-infectious; meaning, that HIV-positive person can’t—cannot—infect someone with HIV. An HIV-negative person is at greater risk of contracting HIV having unprotected sex, i.e., condomless sex, with someone who thinks they’re HIV-negative than they are having unprotected sex with someone who knows they’re HIV-positive and has an undetectable viral load. And while some argue it’s inaccurate to describe bareback sex with an HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load as “unprotected,” since the meds themselves provide protection, HIV meds—including PrEP, which is a pill HIV-negative people can take to protect themselves from contracting HIV—offer no protection against gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and other STIs. So, meds or no meds, PrEP or no PrEP, condomless sex still counts as unprotected sex.
A little more science: a study out of the UK found that more straight people were infected with HIV in 2020 than gay people. But while there were more total infections among straight men and women than among gay men—slightly more than a thousand new HIV infections in 2020 among straight people (1010) and slightly fewer than a thousand among gay men (940)—gay men still remain at significantly greater risk. Only 2.9% of men in the UK identify as gay men, while 93.7% of the population identify as straight. Which means almost half of all new HIV infections were concentrated in less than 3% of the population, which is why health officials recommend that all gay and bi men get on PrEP.
Okay, RAD, so you and your boyfriend wanna play with other couples; you wanna have open, honest, and transparent conversations about STIs in advance of playing; your boyfriend doesn’t want to disclose the fact that he has HIV to anyone.
Is lying the only option?
I guess so. If you want to have sex with other people and withhold this information—which means you would only be pretending to have those open, honest, and transparent conversations—then lying by omission and commission would indeed be your only option.
Now, you can make a solid case for not disclosing—your boyfriend is undetectable, he can’t infect anyone, you aren’t legally obligated to disclose where you live, you would presumably be using condoms to protect yourselves from other STIs—or you could have sex with couples who don’t wanna have a conversation about STIs in advance. But I’m guessing you don’t want to have sex with couples who aren’t willing to have the STI convo with you, RAD, for your own safety and peace of mind. Which means… you want other couples to be honest with you without having to be honest with them. That hardly seems fair, RAD, especially since you’ve made the choice get on PrEP for your own peace of mind. Denying other people you play with the opportunity to make that same choice for their own peace of mind isn’t very fair either.
Look, I don’t always think HIV-positive people who pose no risk of spreading HIV—people with undetectable viral loads—are morally obligated to disclose their HIV status to casual and/or anonymous sex partners, although they might be legally obligated in some states by misguided HIV-disclosure laws. But we aren’t talking about anonymous sex partners here. We’re talking about other couples that you and your boyfriend claim to wanna have honest and transparent negotiations with about sexual safety.
There’s a very real chance that straight couples will refuse to play with you guys if he discloses; straight people and opposite-sex couples are far less likely to be informed about HIV and far more likely to reject HIV-positive partners who pose no risk to them in favor of presumed-to-be HIV-negative partners who do. Even worse, there’s a very real chance that word will spread. People talk. The only workaround here that comes close to ethical—the only ethical-adjacent workaround—is for your boyfriend to refrain from having penetrative sex with other play partners. But even then, RAD, you will be failing to disclose information that your new play partners might feel they were entitled to, e.g., that your primary sex partner is HIV-positive.
I am a 64-year-old bisexual woman. I contracted HPV about 10 years ago and went through a painful, expensive treatment that dragged on for three months. Since then, I have tested negative for it. My gyno said that I am HPV free. Is that possible? I thought HPV lasted forever. I have a new sex partner, my first in a few years. I have to tell him, right? Am I going to get throat cancer giving him blow jobs? Is he going to get esophageal cancer eating my pussy? Do we use condoms forever and plastic wrap on me? It makes me want to stay home and watch Grace and Frankie alone. We used condoms for the first couple of months and then agreed that since we were both disease-free to go without. But am I really disease-free?
Stress Eating And Tense
“For most people, once HPV is cleared, it goes into an undetectable state and cannot be transmitted to future partners,” said Dr. Ina Park, a professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and Medical Consultant for the Centers for Disease Control Division of STD Prevention. “In rare cases, people who cleared HPV can experience a reappearance—say, if their immune system becomes compromised—but this is NOT the norm. For someone who has been HPV free for 10 years, there’s no need to disclose a remote history of HPV to partners, and no need to use barriers unless both parties wish to do so. So, it’s ok to leave the plastic wrap in the kitchen!”
Worst-case scenario: let’s say you somehow wound up exposing your new boyfriend to HPV or he exposed you to a different strain. It can take 20 years and sometimes longer for an HPV infection to progress to cancer, which only a small percentage of HPV infections do. And I don’t mean to be callous, SEAT, but by then—20 years from now—something else will have killed you already or you’ll be ready to go. And whether you’re dying of cancer or something else a few decades from now, SEAT, I doubt you’ll be laying on your deathbed thinking, “Gee, I wish I’d gotten my pussy eaten less.”
P.S. And if you’re not too old to learn a new trick—and you’re not—use that plastic wrap to mummify your boyfriend.
Dr. Ina Park is the author of Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs. Follow her on Twitter @InaParkMd.
I’m a 31-year-old straight male from Denver with a general question about finding dates. I’m 6′ 2″, in shape, have sought therapy, and I have a six-figure salary—and I can’t get a date to save my life. I primarily use Hinge to find people, and I work from home and have a friend group that isn’t big on going out to events and such. What general advice do you have for people who are looking, and just aren’t having any success? Seems like so many people are going on regular dates, finding relationships, etc., and frankly I’m just struggling to figure out how they’re all doing it.
Love Eludes Dude
Whatever else you do—this is so important—don’t succumb to bitterness, as bitterness will make you radioactive to any woman you might manage to wind up on a date with.
Additionally, LED, you should ask your therapist to level with you about what you might be doing wrong. Do you behave in ways that make women feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or uninterested? If your therapist isn’t comfortable telling you what you should or shouldn’t do, then ask them to work with you on identifying the interpersonal skills you might need to work on. Also, seeing as what you’re doing now isn’t working—lurking on Hinge, staying at home—try something else. Get on some other dating apps, LED, and get out of the house more. You don’t have to ditch the friends you already have, but you do need to make additional friends, e.g., meet some people who like going places, seeing things, and doing shit. The best way to meet those people, LED, is to go places, see things, and do shit on your own. Volunteer somewhere, join some clubs, find an adult sports league. These aren’t exactly blazing new insights on my part; with the exception of dating apps, I could’ve lifted this advice from a 60-year-old Ann Landers column. But everything I’m telling you has been the standard, go-to advice for guys in your shoes for decades because it works.
Please note: Following this advice does not guarantee romantic success. But the more shit you’re out there doing and the more people you’re getting to know while you’re out there doing shit—the more you enjoy life—the less miserable you’ll feel. And the less miserable a single person is, LED, the more attractive he becomes to potential romantic partners.
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