Being given a positive HIV test result can be an overwhelming experience and one which you’re likely to remember for the rest of your life.
At the time it might seem as if everything has changed, including your sex life; but you’ll be given as much support as you need from your healthcare team.
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 is 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.
Whatever your reasons for worrying about sex, it is 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 your main concern is being safe enough to protect your partners.
Talking to your friends or seeking out a support group could also be useful.
Although you should be aware of your right to a good sex life, it is 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 is perfectly normal for many of us.
Remember that condoms are effective at stopping HIV being passed on. In addition to condoms, another way to reduce the risk of passing the virus on is to take HIV treatment.
HIV drugs dramatically lower the level of HIV in your body, usually to ‘undetectable’ levels. ‘Undetectable’ does not mean there is no HIV present. HIV may be there but in levels too low for the test to pick up. Also, there may be higher levels of the virus in other body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids or anal mucus.
If someone is on HIV treatment, there is an extremely low risk of them passing HIV onto a partner through unprotected vaginal or anal sex as long as:
Condoms are still the best way to prevent the spread of STIs.
Before you make any decision about not using condoms, get advice from your HIV doctor or nurse.
You can ask to start treatment early in order to protect a partner, and in many cases your HIV doctor will agree to this. You can always ask your HIV doctor about how treatment makes passing on HIV much less likely.
One thing you should remember is that condoms have one important advantage: they protect you and your partner from other STIs as well as HIV. They can also prevent an unwanted pregnancy. You can read more on our page about minimising sexual risks.
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.
Next: Minimising sexual risks ››
This article was last reviewed on
by Anna Peters
Date due for the next review: 10/4/2018
Content Author: Richard Scholey
Current Owner: Health Promotion
Fox, J., White, P.J., Macdonald, N., Weber, J., McClure, M., Fidler, S. & Ward, H. Reductions in HIV Transmission Risk Behaviour Following Diagnosis of Primary HIV Infection: A Cohort of High-risk Men who Have Sex with Men HIV Medicine 10(7):432-438 (2009)
Sex and Sexuality, University of California (2005)
Sex: Will I or Won’t I?, National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (2002)
Maintaining a fulfilling sex life National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (2002)
Starting treatment early to protect a partner (section 4.4), BHIVA 2014
Position statement on the use of antiretroviral therapy to reduce HIV transmission, The British HIV Association (BHIVA) and the Expert Advisory Group on AIDS (EAGA), September 2014
Various people talk about the effect HIV has had on their everyday health
CAB - Citizens Advice Bureau
HIV Drug Interactions
George House Trust
Equality and Human Rights Commission
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