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Relationships for HIV-positive Young People
“I have an amazing boyfriend now who is hiv- but he accepts everything that comes with me” Amy, HIV-positive young person
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 status, they are not a great person to get close to anyway. Whilst everyone has the right to choose who they have sex with, nobody has the right to make you feel bad because of your HIV status.
Sometimes you may feel that you’re with someone and it isn’t right. It can be hard to end something that isn’t right, 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.
Telling your partner
Deciding to tell your partner can involve a lot of the same considerations as telling a friend. However, if you are thinking of having sex with a boyfriend/girlfriend, you will need to think about what to tell them, and how to ensure that you don’t transmit HIV. It can be a good idea to tell them in advance, just in case a condom splits or something happens where HIV could be transmitted.
The difficulty is finding a way to tell them where they will understand the risk, but not panic or react badly! Lots of people are happy to be with somebody who is HIV-positive, but sometimes telling people your status can lead to you seeing a side of them that you don’t like…remember that people who react in a way that makes you feel bad aren’t necessarily worth your time.
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.
Not transmitting HIV
Condoms are GREAT because they stop HIV 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 so as not to transmit HIV.
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.
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.
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’. For it to work, they need to take it within 3 days, 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.
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 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.
You may want to use other types of birth control 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. If 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 ARVs. AVERT has more information on HIV and Pregnancy.