Undetectable means Untransmittable — With Guest Blogger Matthew Hodson
Since the AIDS crisis first hit, before we knew that Undetectable means Untransmittable, many people’s sex lives have been tainted by fear. The sex we have, which should be an expression of intimacy, passion, lust, tenderness and joy, has all too often been accompanied by thoughts of “Is this safe enough?”or “Will I be OK?” or “Will he be OK?”
Some, who are fortunate enough to live without HIV, are too nervous to date someone who is living with HIV. So I’m here as an HIV positive person to set some minds at rest.
Here’s How To Do It
First of all, be assured that you can date someone with HIV without risk of acquiring it. When we are on effective HIV treatment, it suppresses the levels of virus in the body so much that it is impossible for us to pass HIV on to our sex partners.
You may have seen this referred to as “undetectable means untransmittable” or “U=U.” When someone is virally suppressed, you don’t need to use condoms or PrEP to prevent HIV transmission – the risk is zero.
Secondly, you should not have to worry about someone with HIV needing to look after or dying young as a result of HIV. Our treatment is now so effective that, so long as we have access to meds and can take them, people with HIV should have about the same life expectancy as someone who doesn’t have HIV.
Thirdly, you can park your judgment, we haven’t got the energy for that. HIV is just a virus. You can acquire it after having thousands of partners or from just one person. If someone is living with HIV it does not tell you any more about that person, their hopes, fears or aspirations, than just the fact of their HIV status. HIV is not a matter of personal hygiene so avoiding expressions like ‘clean’ when you mean ‘without HIV’ will be helpful.
Here’s an Example:
I remember the first time I had sex with someone with HIV. He shyly told me, searching for a response other than the previous rejections he’d experienced. It was an act of courage and kindness. I wasn’t scared. It made me feel safe that he trusted me with this information.
That was in the early 1990s. At that time there was no effective treatment for HIV – and no PrEP either. Condoms were the only protection available, unless you were willing to choose abstinence (I was not). AIDS took many lives.
We responded to HIV and the fear of AIDS in many different ways. Some swore off sex all together; others developed strategies to cope or to protect themselves, with varying degrees of success.
PrEP Can Help!
The addition of PrEP to our prevention tools, and the understanding that Undetectable means Untransmittable, means that any fear of having sex with someone who lives with HIV is just wasted energy.
Sadly, attitudes to HIV have not progressed as rapidly or as far as our ability to prevent or treat it has. HIV remains one of the most stigmatized of all medical conditions. The ignorance and fear that clings to this virus means that for many of us living with HIV, it is the stigma we face that now provides the greatest challenge.
That stigma and fear of HIV creates barriers to HIV testing and treatment. HIV is passed on when it is not treated, so dismantling the barriers that stigma builds is crucial to our efforts to end the epidemic.
When someone refuses to contemplate sex with someone who’s living with HIV it isn’t just a matter of personal preference, it’s a blow for ignorance over reality, for prejudice over equality. Stigmatizing doesn’t help keep you or anyone free from HIV, rather stigma provides fertile ground for new HIV infections.
There are now over 37 million people living with HIV. We are in every community, every nationality. We may be young or old, black, brown or white, male, female or non-binary, gay, straight or bisexual. Many of us are fabulous. If you choose to exclude anyone with HIV from your dating pool, you are cutting yourself off from opportunities for happiness.
Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of the HIV information charity aidsmap.