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Relationships for HIV-positive Young People
Being HIV-positive and having a relationship
Many young people consider whether they would like to be in a relationship, and if so, what makes a good relationship? Have a look at our page on relationships and feelings to help you work this out.
Living with HIV does NOT mean that you cannot be in a relationship. If somebody is unable to look beyond your HIV status, they are not a great person to get close to anyway. Whilst everyone has the right to choose who they are in a relationship with, nobody has the right to make you feel bad because of your HIV status.
Telling your boyfriend/girlfriend you have HIV
What should I tell them?
Deciding to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend you have HIV (disclosing) can involve a lot of the same considerations as telling a friend. You may be worried that they will react badly, or not want to be with you anymore. Remember that people who react in a way that makes you feel bad aren’t necessarily worth your time. But trusting someone with the truth is the basis of a good relationship; lying is a lot of effort! 1
Your partner may not know much about HIV, so explain that you know how to prevent passing HIV on to them. Protecting yourselves is a shared responsibility, and telling them may reduce the pressure you feel.
How much you tell them is up to you. It may be that you want to wait a while before going into any depth about living with HIV, or perhaps you already trust your partner enough to talk about it now. Don't let anyone force you into saying more than you want to.
When should I tell them?
This is entirely up to you. But if you are thinking of having sex with a boyfriend/girlfriend, you may want to disclose your status before having sex. This is so that you both know about the importance of using protection to prevent HIV transmission to them.
If you have a friend who knows your status, it can be a good idea to plan this process with them and meet up with them afterwards to chat about how it went.
Having safer sex - not transmitting HIV
Relationships are not all about sex... but if you are thinking of having sex you have every right to! 2 It's important to know if you're ready to have sex, and to use protection if you are HIV-positive and having sex.
Have protected sex
Condoms are GREAT because they stop HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) being passed on from one person to another. If you want to have sex, or oral sex, you need to know how to use a condom if you have HIV, so as not to transmit HIV or STIs.
Also, people living with HIV can be at more risk of catching some STIs, so it is extra important that you use a condom for your own sexual health as well.
Even if your partner also has HIV, you will still need to use a condom to ensure that you and your partner don’t get infected with HIV again, which can cause problems with your treatment.
Keep your viral load low
HIV is more likely to get passed on if you have what’s called ‘a high viral load’. This is when you have a lot of HIV in your body. If you are on HIV treatment, this can make your viral load lower, which lowers the risk of passing on HIV. Take your medication at the same time every day to keep your viral load low.
Access emergency HIV prevention
If something goes wrong with your condom – it splits or you forget to use one – there is something that your HIV-negative partner can take to help prevent them from getting HIV, but they will need to ACT FAST. It’s called ‘ PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis)’. For it to work, they need to take it within 3 days/72 hours, but better still within 24 hours. It’s available from different places depending on where you live – a hospital, a clinic, a doctor, an accident and emergency service or all of these. You will need to tell your partner that you are HIV-positive if they don’t already know, so that they can access PEP.
Many young people who are HIV-positive find that sex is more enjoyable if their partner knows their status – it helps you to communicate well if you’re open with each other and means that both people can share the responsibility of safer sex more equally. Your partner is just as responsible for ensuring you use protection as you; it is not solely your responsibility! 3
The law around sex and HIV
Many countries have laws that affect people living with HIV who have sex. Sometimes young people who live with HIV mistakenly believe that it is completely illegal for them to have sex. However, laws about sex are more likely to be about using protection or informing your partner about your status. Make sure you know the law in your country.
Some of these laws are based on ignorance, and can actually increase stigma rather than protecting people. If you feel strongly about this, it's a good idea to get involved in advocacy activities.
Pregnancy and HIV
You may want to use other types of birth control or contraceptives to further lower the risk of pregnancy, in case your condom splits. However, some types of birth control like the pill don’t work with HIV medication, so speak to a health worker about the best option for you.
f you need to take the morning after pill, you will probably need a double dose of it with your medication, so let the pharmacist or doctor know that you’re on antiretroviral medication (ARVs). AVERT has more information on contraception for young people.
Sometimes you may feel that you’re with someone and it isn’t right. It can be hard to end it, especially if you have strong feelings for a person, or if they are supportive of your HIV status. If you rely a lot on your boyfriend or girlfriend for support, make sure that you seek out support from another close friend if a relationship ends.
Related organisations - Relationships for HIV-positive Young People
- 1. AIDSTAR One (2013, September) ' Teen talk - A guide for positive living'
- 2. International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) (2010) ' Healthy, Happy and Hot: A young people's guide to rights'
- 3. UNICEF/UNESCO (2013) ' Lost in Transitions: Current issues faced by adolescents living with HIV in Asia Pacific'
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