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Are you ready for sex?

are you ready for sex

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.

When can I start having sex again?

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.

What is effective treatment?

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.

What else can I do to lower my sexual anxiety?

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.

Sex, drugs and alcohol

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.

More on protected sex:

Next: Reducing sexual risks ››


The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 10/4/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 10/3/2018

Content Author: Richard Scholey

Current Owner: Health Promotion

More information:

HIV Transmission Risk Persists During the First 6 Months of Antiretroviral Therapy, Mujugira A1, Celum C, Coombs RW, Campbell JD, Ndase P, Ronald A, Were E, Bukusi EA, Mugo N, Kiarie J, Baeten JM; Partners PrEP Study Team
National Center for Biotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine
2016 Aug 15;72(5):579-84. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001019

HIV treatment as prevention and HPTN 052, Cohen MS1, McCauley M, Gamble TR
National Center for Boiotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine

Sexual Activity Without Condoms and Risk of HIV Transmission in Serodifferent Couples When the HIV-Positive Partner Is Using Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy, Journal of the American Medical Association: Alison J. Rodger, MD; Valentina Cambiano, PhD; Tina Bruun, RN; Pietro Vernazza, MD; Simon Collins; Jan van Lunzen, PhD; Giulio Maria Corbelli; Vicente Estrada, MD; Anna Maria Geretti, MD; Apostolos Beloukas, PhD; David Asboe, FRCP; Pompeyo Viciana, MD1; Félix Gutiérrez, MD; Bonaventura Clotet, PhD; Christian Pradier, MD; Jan Gerstoft, MD; Rainer Weber, MD; Katarina Westling, MD; Gilles Wandeler, MD; Jan M. Prins, PhD; Armin Rieger, MD; Marcel Stoeckle, MD; Tim Kümmerle, PhD; Teresa Bini, MD; Adriana Ammassari, MD; Richard Gilson, MD; Ivanka Krznaric, PhD; Matti Ristola, PhD; Robert Zangerle, MD; Pia Handberg, RN; Antonio Antela, PhD; Sris Allan, FRCP; Andrew N. Phillips, PhD; Jens Lundgren, MD, JAMA. 2016;316(2):171-181. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5148

Viral load, Michael Carter, Greta Hughson, NAM, Aidsmap, March 2014

More confidence on zero risk: still no transmissions seen from people with an undetectable viral load in PARTNER study, Gus Cairns, NAM, Aidsmap, July 2016

Open your eyes to STIs, NHS Choices, Nov 2015

When sex goes wrong, NHS Choices, Nov 2015

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)

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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