Writers are often called upon to articulate their viewpoint in different ways. We can assemble data, facts, stories and experiences - to build a wave of words to ride on.
On occasion, here at PositiveLite.com, we are asked to give a commentary on current research developments in the areas of prevention and treatment of HIV, as it impacts us both personally and professionally. Oh…and socially.
The recent rise of the “undetectable = uninfectious” message has sparked several articles. I’ve read them and can nod in full agreement to the positivity of owning the words “I am uninfectious”. It’s a refreshing declaration that mirrors the confidence of what research has shown. Knowing that my antiretroviral medication works, that HIV is suppressed to an undetectable viral load, and the virus can’t be transmitted because I am undetectable is good news.
But, personally, I see something missing.
When two people are about to engage in sex of any kind, each person brings a lot to the table. There is a plethora of things to consider and negotiate and experience. Interests, preferences, fears, boundaries, attitudes, possible stimulants, sexual history, HIV status, PrEP or no PrEP, STIs, etc. All, or some of these, are an amalgamation of two parties, with each person having a contribution or responsibility to be honest and forthright in the negotiation or dialogue.
Does all of this dialogue occur every time? I don’t believe so. Is the other person getting what I am saying? Am I solely responsible to guide how this possible encounter will unfold?
"Online, many ask...Are u clean? In other words, I am dirty if I have HIV. Yet, their perception or misconception is that having sex with someone who says they are clean is a green light, even though that individual may have never been tested for HIV."
Our messaging may be accurate, but it’s more important to understand not only how I deliver this message but how the other person hears it.
If I tell someone I am uninfectious, they better fully comprehend that I am solely talking about me being HIV-positive and undetectable in my viral load. I may not be uninfectious outside of HIV. I am human and I may carry stuff that I can potentially give others in close contact. (bacteria, virus, fungi, etc.). For example, deep kissing can result in picking up syphilis. Not many know this. So, we need to be specific in assigning the word "uninfectous". It can be read as a global label for our entire health status.
And then consider the “friendly” discourse on social apps. Online, many ask "are u clean?" In other words, I am dirty if I have HIV. Yet, their perception or misconception is that having sex with someone who says they are "clean" is a green light, even though that individual may have never been tested for HIV.
I hate the cockiness and arrogance of those who ask “are u clean”. I don’t want to carry the same arrogance as these guys and dismiss those who don’t buy into my uninfectious verbiage whether I state it in a profile tag line, chat text or one-on-one conversation.
This comes down to invincibility.
I may be empowered by this new declaration “I am uninfectious” but I am not invincible.
Sex is risky. It will always be risky. Emotionally, physically or mentally. It can be an amazing experience when those engaged, are respectful, honest and educated (acknowledging and accepting possible risk) or disappointing when expectations come up short from either side.
In my journey, and for anyone who has had years behind them of living with HIV, our disclosure dialogue keeps mirroring the developments of science and research study. From day one, I realized it’s best just to state your status and bring others into that by asking what they know or think they know about having sex with someone HIV-positive. Asking “are u willing to take the risk” or “do you understand fully the risks” is the way to go, and by that, I mean, the whole impact of sex, not just my HIV status.
The aftermath of any sexual encounter is easier to manage when you leave the situation knowing that both parties have accepted responsibility equally.
And what’s said between people can either be the truth, a shaded truth, a mistruth or direct lie. If someone tells me. “I am uninfectous”, I either believe the declaration or ask for proof. If I go ahead and believe them, without proof, then I have made a decision with potential risk. If I demand proof of being undetectable, then I may lose an opportunity, but have eliminated risk.
If we, meaning HIV-positive and HIV-negative individuals, would fully accept that sexual negotiation is a two-party agreement with risks and benefits mutually available to both, there would be a greater opportunity to minimize the blame/shame game. But until that arena of acceptance and responsibility comes into view . . .
Can we talk?