Today, I came across TWO sponsored ads on Facebook my WebMD. The worst of the two was about dating for people living with HIV. It sucked.
Needless to say both ads by WebMD left me wanting better.
For my sanity, I needed to right this wrong. So I’m re-writing their article with my own voice.
I’m admittedly plagiarizing in a creative licensing approach to bring at least one additional voice of lived experience. I really don’t think anyone is going to sue me over this, but if so, this is my act of corporate and civil disobedience.
Disclaimer: I’m SURE WebMD reviewed this content with their internal panel of people living with HIV for stigmatizing language for things that didn’t quite land right. The people involved did the best they could and intended no harm. In fact, it may have been written by someone who is also living with HIV. We are all human (including me).
Nonetheless, they fall short (as I’m sure I will from my narrow, majority-except-for-the-gay-thing GWM perspective). But here I go because I can’t be silent.
WebMD – get into 2022 and rework your language! Make it person-centric and don’t put the burden of discussing sexual health primarily on the person living with HIV. Consensual sex between two or more adults mean all parties are responsible for their own health, for asking the right questions, and for sharing important health information. Be precise with your language – language matters. We need medically accurate information.
Someone probably got PAID to write the WebMD article. I’m not getting paid. So please receive these edits as a Letter to the Editor, bringing about change by taking control of my own narrative.
For everyone – I want to learn more complete, helpful and accurate ways of writing too – so your comments are welcome. Your trolling is not – so don’t make me close comments.
Top Tips for Dating When You’re a Person Living with HIV (revisited)
Finding a partner while living with HIV may feel scary. Here are some tips from others who understand what you’re going through, who are also living and even thriving with HIV.
I give credit to WebMD for most of this content – source article here. I have added or edited content where I thought the information was dated, inaccurate or poorly worded. I’ll underline text where I made edits
Living With HIV
Finding a partner when HIV is something you’re living with can feel scary, but you can have a fulfilling relationship. HIV is treatable, and with treatment, you can live a long and normal life. Your partners can also take steps to minimize their personal risk of getting HIV.
It’s sometimes hard to talk about HIV with new or potential partners. It’s normal to feel stressed or embarrassed, but learning more about your condition can help. Ask your doctor about how and when to disclose your status. Do your own research online or by talking to a care coordinator, case worker, self-advocate, peer support, mentor, or other trusted, knowledgeable people in your community. Find a support group, in person or online. More information and conversations about HIV will make it easier to talk about living with HIV.
Remember That Treatment Is Prevention and U=U
HIV medication lowers the amount of HIV in your blood until it’s undetectable. This helps your immune system repairs itself and stops you from getting other illnesses. If you’re taking medication as directed and are undetectable for at least six months, the virus is untransmittable – a nerdy way of saying you cannot sexually transmit HIV to your partner. That’s right. U=U. Undetectable=Untransmittable. Can’t find it, can’t share it. It’s that simple.
Decide when it’s best to disclose
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to disclose to your partner. Your safety is just as important as the safety of your sexual partner. There may be laws in your state that require you to tell your partner that you are living with HIV before having sex or sharing needles.
It is everyone’s responsibility to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). No one can force you to disclose, but in most cases it is recommended to avoid misunderstanding and to do no harm.
But the world is grey, so here are some factors to consider in deciding when it’s best to disclose:
- Knowing when to disclose your HIV status during dating can be a big worry. If you aren’t having sex, you can decide when to tell a potential partner. Talk about it when you’re both sober, and you feel safe.
- In a safe, consensual relationship between two or more adults, it’s helpful for all partners to take the initiative to know and share their HIV status, either HIV negative or positive. In this way, everyone is taking responsibility and making decisions for their own sexual health.
- In other circumstances, it may be unsafe to disclose your status to your partner because of abuse, domestic violence or other real life situations. Consider reaching out to a local domestic violence advocate for help in getting out of an unsafe situation. In some states, there may be legal risks for not disclosing. This is where harm reduction comes into play. What poses the least risk of harm? Do that first. But get help. You do not have to do this alone.
- Knowing that an undetectable viral load poses no risk of sexual transmission means you can make informed decisions about whether or not to disclose your status. This is all about risk management and making informed choices based on your circumstances and the best information possible.
- In some states, laws may be written that make it “their word against yours” if you were to be charged with a crime for not disclosing your status to a partner. Consider following up any important conversations with a brief email or text message as written proof that you disclosed your status. It may sound awkward to do, but the law isn’t always fair. Alternatively, send that email or text to yourself or make a note to a written diary of the date, time and details of the conversation.
- Knowing the legal realities in your state for people living with HIV can help reduce fear, shame, stigma or other barriers to disclosure. Most states have information on HIV criminalization, or contact these national organizations [SERO, Health Not Prisons Collective]
Practice Harm Reduction to minimize risk
There are many things you and your partner can do to minimize risk associated with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The relative risk of any behavior increases if you have multiple partners.
- Knowing the relative risk of various sexual behaviors, you can decide when to tell a potential partner based on whether you are engaging in behaviors that have no or negligible risk of transmission. [POZ Magazine Article on HIV Transmission & Risks] Talk about it when you’re both sober, and you feel safe.
- Consider using condoms, which prevent HIV transmission as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
- Practice safe sex by engaging in activities that pose no risk of HIV transmission. Oral sex has no risk of transmission as long as there are no open sores or cuts in the mouth or on the genitals. Touching, use of toys, frottage and mutual masturbation are examples of other safe sexual activities. Toys should not be shared, or if they are, clean them in between use. [POZ Magazine Article on HIV Transmission & Risks]
Request Your Partners to Take PrEP
Encourage your partners who are not living with HIV to talk to their doctor about PrEP. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which means they take it before sex or needle sharing to lower their risk of infection. It’s a highly effective medicine. PrEP for your partner would make most sense if you aren’t undetectable or have trouble staying undetectable or in situations where there may be multiple partners involved.
Whether or not you are living with HIV, dating and finding the right person takes time. You might feel stressed about your love life and how HIV affects your relationships, but be kind to yourself. Take time to do what makes you feel good and helps you maintain your sense of self.
Living with HIV can be stressful and lead to a lot of emotional distress. You might find it helpful to talk to a counselor about ways to cope with your feelings and your condition. Finding other people who live with HIV can help you feel a sense of community. Plus, you can ask them for advice.
If you feel embarrassed about living with HIV, you’re not alone. But remember, it’s not something to feel ashamed about. Look for a partner who appreciates you for who you are. Be yourself and ask for help if you’re struggling to feel confident.
I will improve this, but wanted to get SOMETHING out that spoke more to my truth, to my experience, to my learning. I could do better. There are some places to flesh out. But it’s a start.
Keep tellin’ the story.
Professor C Todd Peacock III
Community Artivist, Connector, Storyteller & Healer