HIV+ Sex: Knowledge is Power

The phrase “knowledge is power” couldn’t be anymore true than when it comes to sex. Fusion’s Alicia Menendez and a panel of guests discussed sex with HIV.

“If you know that someone is HIV positive, then the risk is already off the table,” said Tyler Curry founder of The Needle Prick Project, which aims to help end the stigma of HIV in today’s society. “The problem is, the people that you don’t know who are positive because they are the ones who have a higher viral load and actually make it riskier.”

The term ‘viral load’ refers to the level of HIV in your blood, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And, “knowing your viral load helps your provider to monitor your HIV disease, decide when to start treatment, and determine whether or not your HIV medications are working once you begin taking them.”

In an article on the subject for The Advocate, Curry explained the significance of ‘viral load.’

“An HIV-positive person can achieve undetectable levels after undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART),” he wrote. “A level of a person’s HIV viral load is what causes them to be more or less likely to transmit the disease. An undetectable viral load reduces the likelihood of transmission by 96 percent. Once a person achieves an undetectable status, it is possible to remain at this level provided that the person is compliant with their ART medication.”

A person living with HIV who knows their status and is taking their medications (and has a low/no viral load and no STDs) is less of a ‘threat’ to their partners’ health than someone who isn’t (doesn’t think/know they’re) HIV positive, according to the panelists.

Growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s was a scary time for many when it came to learning about HIV/AIDS. And with fear came confusion and misinformation.

“I had to unlearn all of this,” said Rich Juzwiak, a writer at Gawker who recounted some of the myths he learned “If a man has HIV and he’s on his antiviral meds and he doesn’t have an STD, it’s literally impossible [to pass the virus].”

That’s because, “the only guys who know for sure what their status is are the guys who are [HIV] positive,” according to Juzwiak.

“Far too often, our community mistakes silence as an admission of innocence,” Curry said in the Advocate article. “If no one asks about a person’s HIV status, no one tells. Worse, a person will assert their HIV-negative status even if it’s been months, or even years, since their last HIV test.”

According to HHS, the key to being safe in a “mixed status” relationship, where one partner is HIV positive and the other is not, is knowing your status (as well as your partner’s). HHS has outlined ways to reduce your risk of contracting HIV on AIDS.gov.