“I’m 36 and dating a new man; it’s going very well. Last week we had our “Is this getting serious?” chat and he shared with me that he’s been HIV-positive for a few years. I think at first I was putting on a really good poker face because I’m quite crushed out and didn’t want anything to slow down the train. But upon further reflection, I’m feeling rather anxious. As someone who is negative but sexually active, I’ve probably happily slept with positive guys and not known it (while taking all the precautions) but since my boyfriend let me know his status I’ve been fixating on it and way more fearful than I was with those other guys. I don’t want to mess this up or hurt him with my fears. How should I proceed?”
It’s amazing how powerful our minds can be: Since learning about your honey’s status, yours has been like a dog with a bone despite your prior comfort bedding men of unknown status. You sound smitten with your new man and could probably benefit from learning more about mixed-status relationships so that you can approach this with clarity and not the cloudiness that comes from cranked-up anxiety. While HIV has become a mostly manageable virus in our neck of the world (especially for those with health insurance or cash), it’s still no cakewalk, so your fear is a healthy response.
Despite the risks, many people find happiness and sexual fulfillment in mixed-status relationships. It can be hard to reconcile your wisdom that HIV is not a death sentence when you grew up in a time when being HIV-positive was a much scarier fate (partly because of ineffective/destructive meds and partly because of rampant homophobia). The unfortunate truth is that there is a chance of you becoming positive if the two of you shack up and develop a more filled-out sexual repertoire. HIV transmission could happen if you engage in unprotected intercourse (quite possible) or blow him without a condom (possible but unlikely). Seeking out the latest safer sex guidelines would help you get more specific tips about further minimizing risk (such as not performing oral sex if you have bleeding gums or mouth sores). Any risks of transmission are lower if your partner is taking effective anti-retrovirals, so knowing more about how he is caring for his HIV infection will help the two of you make decisions about your sex practices.
You’ll have to do some serious self-reflection before committing to this relationship to ensure that you would never blame your man should you, one day, become HIV-positive. This guy has really shown some integrity and taken a risk by being upfront about his being poz. You’re going to have to match that integrity and fess up about your anxiety so that he too has all the information he needs as your relationship deepens. Trying to mask your fears for his benefit is really treating him like a child and likely to offend him way more than your fears would.