Today’s treatments have made sex and dating with HIV safer than ever.
Just a few decades ago, learning you had HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) meant your life would have to change substantially. Dating with HIV in particular was especially challenging. Experts considered sex with HIV a high-risk activity because it could transmit the virus to others. This worsened the stigma against people with HIV.
Today, treatment for HIV can control the virus and make the risk of transmission lower (as long as you stick to your medicine). As a result, dating with HIV may not have to be all that different from dating for people without HIV. That said, you should still be aware of some guidelines for you and your partner’s health and safety.
Guidelines for Dating with HIV
1. Take your HIV medicine consistently
The key to safe sex and dating with HIV is to follow your treatment regimen exactly as prescribed. Antiretroviral medicines work by preventing HIV from replicating in your blood. As a result, your viral load stays low, so you’re unlikely to be sick or transmit the virus to others. As a result, a couple in which one partner has HIV and the other doesn’t can enjoy a healthy sex life like any other couple.
For the best treatment outcomes:
- Don’t miss or skip doses
- Take it exactly as prescribed
- Make sure you always have a good supply of your medicine so you don’t have to worry about running out
- Reach out to a social worker if you lose or change jobs and have a disruption in your insurance
- Get your blood checked regularly at the doctor’s office to make sure your HIV medication is working
2. Disclose your status with your partners
You don’t have to tell a partner about your HIV on the first date. However, you should definitely disclose your status before beginning a sexual relationship, and you should definitely tell long-term partners.
Sharing your status is beneficial in a couple ways. First, your partner can provide emotional support as you go through the lifelong HIV journey. Second, it’s simply important to be honest, and many people believe it's the ethical thing to do. Finally, there is a small risk of transmission *if* you are not taking your antiretroviral medicines consistently, and/or are not using other forms of protection.
3. Introduce your HIV like you would any chronic illness
Due to the history of HIV, many people today still believe that HIV is a death sentence. However, this is not the case. Telling someone you have HIV should not be like telling someone you have cancer. Instead, it’s like telling someone you have a chronic disease like Crohn’s disease or diabetes. Just like with those diseases, you can manage your disease with medicine, doctor appointments, and a few important habits.
In other words, start the conversation with something like, “I have a chronic disease and it happens to be HIV, but I’m in good health. I have medication that keeps it under control, and my viral load is so low that it’s undetectable and significantly less transmissable.”
Some people may still believe harmful myths about HIV. You may occasionally meet potential partners who are not understanding of your diagnosis. Although most people will likely be supportive, these rare negative interactions can be hurtful. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support to deal with HIV stigma. Learn more about getting mental health support with HIV here.
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.
- Factors that increase HIV risk. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on June 17, 2021)
- HIV treatment. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on June 17, 2021)
- Protect yourself during sex. Atlanta, GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on June 17, 2021)