Our two cents: You’ll still want to prevent contracting other STIs.
Antiretroviral HIV medications “have made it so that if you have HIV, you can essentially act like someone who doesn't,” says Dr. Stella Safo, HIV internist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. That’s because when the amount of HIV in the blood is kept at low levels, it's known as being undetectable because it’s unlikely that you’ll transmit HIV to others. With that kind of relief, you might be wondering what you should do with all your extra condoms.
First, you don’t necessarily have to disclose an undetectable status. You can enlist help for contact tracing from your health department's partner services. Still, it's a good idea for both your partner’s and your mental and physical safety. This way, you’ll know that your partner is on board and aware of the precautions and preventive measures out there—if that’s what they’d like to explore—and it builds trust between you. Either way, you don't want to throw away your condoms just yet.
Why You Should Still Wear Condoms While HIV Undetectable
The reason to keep wearing condoms? You’re still at risk of all those other STIs out there, such as syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. This is true whether your HIV is undetectable or not, as well as if you don’t have HIV. Most experts recommend that you keep wearing protection with new or multiple partners.
Plus, the factor of human error doesn’t just go away when you’ve reached undetectable status. For example, you might travel and forget your medications, but HIV treatment needs to be taken consistently. Just like with oral contraception, mistakes like this may cause your treatment to be less effective. In this case, your viral load may rise and become transmissible again.
If you’re unsure about the best measures for safe sex with HIV-positive partners, talk to your doctor about precautions you need to take, and others that you can skip. Learn more about other HIV myths that it’s high time to bust.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
- Sex and Sexuality and HIV: Entire Lesson. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2019. (Accessed July 19, 2021)
- Am I legally required to share my HIV status with others? Washington, DC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021. (Accessed July 20, 2021)
- HIV Treatment Adherence. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Health Office of AIDS Research, 2020. (Accessed on July 20, 2021)