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When your partner is HIV negative

relationships

Finding out that you have HIV may affect your current and future relationships, but it doesn’t have to mean an end to relationships with HIV negative partners. Relationships where one person is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative are sometimes called ‘serodiscordant’.

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Whether you were diagnosed with HIV during a long-term relationship, or you were already diagnosed with HIV when the relationship started, it’s important for your partner to know their status too.

However, recent research has found that if you’re on treatment and have an undetectable viral load you cannot pass on HIV.


Telling your HIV negative partner about your status

You may find it difficult to tell a partner that you have HIV, but not telling a partner may lead to problems later.

This used to be more of an issue when we understood less about the link between viral load and infectiousness. We now know that if you’re taking HIV medication and have an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass on HIV.

It can take up to six months on treatment to become undetectable. That's why we use the phrase effective treatment to mean that someone had been taking their treatment as prescribed for at least six months and has an undetectable viral load.

If you have a detectable viral load, have unprotected sex and don’t tell your partner they may be angry that they weren’t told sooner. If a partner is not told and they subsequently contract HIV as a result of having unprotected sex you could be prosecuted.


Sex and transmission

It’s important to know the facts about how HIV can be passed on during sex.

During sex, if your viral load is detectable, HIV can be passed on during sex in:

  • blood
  • semen
  • pre-cum
  • vaginal fluids
  • anal mucus.

It can’t be passed on through:

  • urine
  • tears
  • sweat.

Can treatment stop me passing on HIV?

Yes. Your viral load is the amount of HIV present in your body fluids. If you’re on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load you cannot pass on HIV.

The higher someone’s viral load, the more HIV is in their body fluids, meaning a greater risk that the virus will be passed on during unprotected sex.

The aim of HIV treatment is to reduce your viral load to undetectable levels.

This means that you still have HIV, but that it’s below levels laboratory equipment can detect it at, and that you cannot pass it on. Remember, it can take up to six months on treatment to become undetectable.


What is protected sex?

Protected sex means using a male or female condom during sex if you or your partner have a detectable viral load.

Condoms should be used with water-based lubricant as oil-based lube weakens them.

HIV treatment - used by HIV positive and negative people - is also a form of protection.


How HIV treatment stops HIV being passed on:

  1. A person with HIV who’s taking treatment and has an undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV.
  2. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), is a course of HIV drugs taken by an HIV negative person to lower the chance of infection. When taken correctly, PrEP significantly reduces the chances of becoming HIV positive.
  3. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), is a month-long course of HIV medication taken by an HIV negative person after possible exposure to reduce the chance of getting HIV. When started in time, PEP can stop HIV infection after sex without a condom (or other exposure) with someone who is infectious - but it does not work every time.

However, before deciding to stop using condoms, it’s a good idea to speak to your HIV doctor or nurse to make sure your viral load is undetectable.

It’s also important to remember that if you have sex without a condom other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on.

Remember, sex without a condom can also lead to an unplanned pregnancy if other contraception is not being used.


Anal sex

If you have a detectable viral load, the highest HIV risk is if your partner takes the receptive role in anal sex. The risk is lower if you take the receptive role.


Vaginal sex

If you have a detectable viral load, vaginal sex without a condom is also high risk but less so than anal sex.

The risk is greater for the uninfected woman than for the uninfected man but the risk for both is real.


Oral sex

If you have a detectable viral load, the risk of passing on HIV from having oral sex performed on you is still very low.

The risk from performing oral sex on an HIV negative partner is even lower.

If you're worried about oral sex, using a condom or latex barrier is an option, but if your viral load is undetectable there is no risk.


Other sexual activities

Deep kissing is safe. Masturbating someone carries no risk if there are no burns, cuts or rashes on the skin of the fingers or hands of the HIV negative person which then come into contact with HIV-infected sexual fluids.


Everyday activities

Despite multiple studies in the USA and Europe, there have been no reports of HIV transmission through everyday domestic contact.

Sharing a razor presents a small theoretical risk of transmitting HIV, but sharing razors is never advisable due to the possibility of transmitting bacterial and viral infections including hepatitis B or C.

There is no evidence that sharing kitchen items such as cutlery poses any risk. HIV is not transmitted in saliva.

Regarding cuts and blood spills, an HIV positive person with a detectable viral load and an open wound should not be attended to by someone who has an open wound themselves. Wounds can be washed with soap and warm water. Clean up spilt blood with hot water and bleach (one part bleach, nine parts water), while wearing rubber gloves.

Again, during the everyday activities that are considered ‘risky’, the person with HIV cannot pass on the virus if their viral load is undetectable.


PEP and PrEP

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP):

In an emergency, such as when sex is not protected, there is a treatment called Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) which can stop a partner getting HIV.

PEP is a month-long course of anti-HIV drugs which can stop HIV taking a hold in someone’s body if they have been exposed to it.

It's best started within 24 hours of unprotected sex and no later than 72 hours afterwards. HIV clinics can give couples PEP to keep at home in case they need it. Alternatively your partner can go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of a hospital or a sexual health clinic (or your HIV clinic). A doctor will carry out an assessment to find out whether they need PEP based on risk factors such your viral load and the type of sex you had.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP):

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a course of HIV drugs taken by an HIV negative person to lower the chance of infection. When taken correctly, significantly reduces the chances of becoming HIV positive.

We regularly publish updates about the availability of PrEP in the UK.


Monogamous relationships and open relationships

You should talk to your partner and agree whether your relationship will be monogamous (no sex outside the relationship) or open (sex with others allowed).

There are risks in not discussing it and assuming that your partner agrees with you. Some people who think they are in a monogamous relationship find out that their partner has had sex with others.

Both monogamous and open relationships can bring benefits and challenges. For example, some couples in monogamous relationships say they enjoy feeling both physically and emotionally committed to only one person. However, they may feel frustrated if they have a higher or lower sex drive than their partner.

Some couples in open relationships say they enjoy the sense of freedom and variety it can bring, but it can also highlight any feelings of jealousy or insecurity within the relationship.

Mutual trust and honest communication are vital in both monogamous and open relationships.

If you both agree to be monogamous it's important that you discuss what would happen if one of you broke this agreement. If either of you feels you must hide the fact that you’ve had sex outside the relationship, it can seriously threaten the relationship as well as both partners’ sexual health.

One advantage of monogamy is that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and hepatitis C cannot come into the relationship.

If you have sex outside the relationship, condoms make it less likely that you’ll pick up other STIs (and give them to your partner). But some can be passed on despite using condoms and through oral sex.


Facing rejection

There is still fear and lack of understanding about HIV, so many HIV positive people know how it hurts to be rejected by partners or potential partners, especially if they turn you down in an insensitive way.

Rejection happens to the best of us. Try not to take it personally - it’s a reflection of their issues, not of you.

Some people tell potential partners their HIV status as soon as possible, so they don’t invest feelings in someone who will later walk away.

You can look at rejections as a way of sorting out the people who were never going to make you happy anyway. The important thing is not to hide away or give up hope!


link to community forum


More information for couples affected by HIV:

 

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4 comments

  • how long does it take for one to be affected with HIV after having unprotected sex ? how long does it take for it to be detected ?

    Posted 20:30 Fri 14 Sep 2012
  • I have been with my partner for years. We have recently had a to both have a HIV test done (~ for IVF) . He has come back positive and Me neg!! Obviouly, we have been having unprotected sex since he had been infected without knowing. I have now have to be tested again in 1 month then 3!! how likely is it that I will be positive? :(

    Posted 17:09 Sun 17 Nov 2013
  • very helpful

    Posted 23:20 Tue 11 Feb 2014
  • I found this article very useful . It helped both me and my partner get a better under standing of the sudden situation we have found ourselves in

    Posted 21:49 Thu 04 May 2017

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 8/1/2016 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 10/1/2019

Content Author: Richard Scholey

Current Owner: Kerri Virani

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