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December 18, 2019

Should I Fear My Guy’s HIV Diagnosis?

Hey, Bonita…

Hey Bonita,

I can't see any way out of doing something incredibly harsh to one of the most quality guys I've ever met. I'm gay, and he and I met back in the spring. We’ve only been on three or four actual dates in six months of talking, but it was also going slow by design. I took the next step before Thanksgiving and got him to spend the weekend with me. We got along perfectly, as usual, but then he took a Xanax because we needed to talk about something. It turns out that he is HIV positive, and he couldn't get up the nerve to tell me until that last night. I get the impression that in the couple of years since he was diagnosed, I'm the only guy who didn't immediately send him home or say I wasn't interested anymore.

He's on medication and "undetectable,” but Bonita, I don't think I can do this. I know I'm not the only man, gay or straight, who wants to date somebody with whom I could eventually have unprotected sex. The intimacy is on a whole ’nother level. But how in the hell can I break it off without deservedly feeling like shit? I still care deeply for him, and he hasn't done anything wrong. I don't know if I can live with myself either way. Do I break things off and become the latest guy to break this dude's heart, or do I let it roll on its own and always have this in the back of my mind? We had protected sex before that talk, and frankly, it was reeeeeeeally good. But now I don't know if I'll be able to enjoy it, or at least as much. Am I the bad guy here?

You’re not a bad guy. Your concerns here are very common, but they’re also pretty unfounded. This is my last advice column of the year, and usually, I offer some sort of yearly redux and a few sweet words, but I couldn’t bear to let this languish in my inbox. I feel that you are letting your very old school ideas about HIV come between you and someone you really like, and you don’t have to.

First, you should trust modern medicine. You don’t seem to believe that a viral load can actually be undetectable, so I sought out info from an expert on the issue. Barry Zingman, the medical director of the AIDS Center at Montefiore Medical Center and professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 2018 that “if [someone is] undetectable and [has] been on HIV medications for at least six months, and [they] continue that treatment, the risk of transmitting HIV is effectively zero.” If you are taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) daily or PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) after exposure, then your bases are extra covered.

Seriously, you can relax as long as he’s taking care of himself—and he clearly is. You can acquire PrEP and PEP by going to the weekly PrEP Clinic at Live Forward on Wednesdays between 10 a.m.–5 p.m. While you’re there, you can ask them all about undetectable viral loads or anything else that unsettles or confuses you. I say all of this because I can tell that you are into this guy and you enjoyed sex with him. In 2019, an HIV diagnosis is not the death sentence that it was in the ’80s. With meds and support, your potential bae has every opportunity in the world to have a happy sex life without passing HIV to you or anyone else. 

I think you should read up on HIV and people’s experiences of being negative while having a positive partner. Update your perspective a bit. If you still can’t handle the idea and want to break it off with this guy, you just need to do that. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Dumping him over this is gonna hurt him no matter what, but you’re probably right that you would not be the first. It’s your body and your life, and you have every right to dump him because of his diagnosis, even if it’s not the kindest move in the world. But if you do that, then you need to own it.

Need advice? Email advice@flagpole.com, use the anonymous form at flagpole.com/getadvice, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.

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