Being given a positive HIV test result can be an overwhelming experience but there are lots of new advances which mean you can stay well and protect others.
One thing lots of people don’t realise when they’re diagnosed is that if you’re on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass on HIV.
If you’re newly diagnosed, you might be worried about having sex again, especially if you became infected through sexual activity.
After they have been diagnosed it's common for HIV positive people to feel undesirable, often with a lot of anxiety about how infectious they are, even during sex with condoms. They might be so worried about infecting a partner that they would rather not run the risk, so avoid sex completely.
One thing you might not be aware of is that people who are on HIV treatment and have an undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV. It can take up to six months on treatment to become undetectable.
So, whatever your reasons for worrying about sex, it's important to remember that there are ways to overcome these and get your fears about infecting others into perspective. Your sex life is just as important to your wellbeing as it was before you tested positive and there isn’t a single reason why you should stop yourself from seeking pleasure.
Talking to your doctor about counselling can be a good start. A special type of counselling called ‘risk-reduction’ may be offered to you – this is particularly useful if you need to find out more about protected sex.
Talking to your friends or seeking out a support group could also be useful.
This means that someone is on treatment, taking it as prescribed for at least six months and has an undetectable viral load - below 20 copies/ml.
Although you should be aware of your right to a good sex life, it's natural for our desires to change in intensity throughout our lives. If you simply don’t feel like having sex then that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you – it's perfectly normal for many of us.
HIV drugs dramatically lower the level of HIV in your body, usually to undetectable levels. Undetectable doesn't mean there's no HIV present. HIV may be there but in levels too low for the test to pick up.
Remember that being on effective treatment with an undetectable viral load stops HIV being passed on.
However, before you decide to stop using condoms, you should speak to your doctor or nurse to make sure your viral load is undetectable.
It's important to remember that if you have sex without a condom other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on. Sex without a condom can also result in pregnancy if other contraception is not being used.
Many people use alcohol or recreational drugs to try to improve how they cope with anxiety, to feel more confident or to boost their sexual performance - but these can actually make matters worse. Tackling the underlying cause of your worries is a much better idea.
If you're a gay or bisexual man who is worried about drugs, alcohol and sex, visit Friday/Monday.
Next: Reducing sexual risks ››
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by Anna Peters
Date due for the next review: 10/3/2018
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