HIV/AIDS remains a very serious disease, despite the billions of dollars spent on research, treatment and finding a vaccine or cure. Though the AIDS epidemic started in the 1980s, scientific evidence shows HIV took shape as far back as the 1930s.
Advances in treatment are removing the death sentence label of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the late 20th Century, but it remains an incurable disease with complications. In the Philadelphia area, there are an estimated 19,000 people with the diagnosis and more than 1.2 million people in the U.S., according to the AIDS Library.
The stigma around the diagnosis is dangerous, too. It is important to remember that those with the HIV/AIDS are still people who laugh, cry and love and want to be loved. In researching this, i came across a statement with the right perspective: “Living with the disease” is just that, living!
It can be very stressful for an HIV+ person to disclose this status to someone he or she is interested in or to someone expressing interest in them. For any relationship that is nonsexual, disclosure is voluntary. The person has likely experienced his or her fair share of rejection because of the diagnosis. But by doing disclosing, the person is taking a first step in creating the trust that is necessary in any relationship.
Disclosure will be an important part of the relationship going forward as friends and family are introduced over time and who knows and who doesn't. For the HIV- partner, it is important for them to know that there may be assumptions made about their own status throughout the relationship and even after, if it doesn't work out. These aspects can take a toll on a each partner and the relationship and if this is one of the main areas of stress and disagreement in the relationship, it should be revealed early on in therapy.
Sex is the big issue in serodiscordant relationships because this is where the risk of transmission exists. Disclosure prior to becoming sexually active is necessary. There are laws regarding this throughout the U.S.
Safe sex should remain a constant throughout the relationship. Seroconversion can be minimized when this is combined with the HIV+ partner consistently taking an antiretroviral medication regimen and is considered undetectable through sequential check ups. Also, the negative partner may be able to obtain and then must regularly take Truvada, a medication approved as a preventative for people in serodiscordant relationships.
Personal and sexual health are very important areas in these relationships and will become part of the bond between the partners.
It is possible to have a long, healthy and fulfilling relationship with someone of the opposite status. In these situations communication and trust may play a bigger role and so for people who have difficulties in this area, seeing a therapist may be beneficial at any time, from early on in the relationship and at points later as situations change: whether considering children, changes in the relationship and changes if the negative partner becomes positive.
You can find additional information, including pregnancy in serodiscordant relationships at http://www.hivandsingle.com/, http://www.aidslibrary.org and http://aids.gov.
This Topic of the Week was written by Brian Swope, MFT.