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Men with Partners Living with HIV

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on August 28, 2017Written by Natalie Silver and Josh Robbins on August 28, 2017

A romantic relationship with a person living with HIV can be fulfilling on many levels.

But understanding HIV and how to prevent the risk of exposure is critical to a safe and healthy relationship.

Just because your partner is living with HIV doesn’t mean he expects you to be an expert on it. Ask him questions and continue to educate yourself on the condition. Maintain open communication and discuss your desire to be involved in the management of his HIV.

By providing your partner with emotional support, he may be able to manage his health better, which can improve his health.

A healthy relationship can include:

  • helping your partner stay on track with his treatment, if needed
  • talking to your doctor about PrEP, a preventative medication for HIV
  • discussing and choosing the best prevention options available for you both
  • abstaining from sharing intravenous needles with anyone

By following each of these suggestions, you can decrease your chances of contracting HIV and improve your partner’s health.

Ensure your partner is managing his HIV

HIV is a chronic condition treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART controls the virus by lowering the viral load in the blood, as well as other bodily fluids. Managing HIV requires close attention. ART medications must be taken as directed by your doctor. Additionally, managing HIV means going to the doctor regularly.

By treating his HIV with ART, your partner can manage his health and reduce the risk of transmission (or practically eliminate it). The goal of any treatment for HIV is to achieve an undetectable state.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research suggests that the risk of exposure is negligible if the partner living with HIV can contain the virus with antiviral therapy.

The support you offer your partner can positively affect how he manages his health. A study in JAIDS showed that if same-sex couples work together toward a goal, they are more likely to stay on track with HIV care in all aspects. It can also strengthen other relationship dynamics. A medical routine that includes both people may encourage the negative partner to be more supportive, says another study in JAIDS.

Take HIV medications yourself

You should consider preventative HIV medications to avoid your risk of exposure. Currently, there are two options to help prevent HIV transmission. One of them is taken each time before intercourse. The other is taken after intercourse in case of exposure:

  • preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • postexposure prophylaxis (PEP)

PrEP

PrEP is preventative medication for people who don’t have HIV and are at high-risk of contracting it. It is an oral medication taken once a day that stops the virus from infecting cells in the immune system. If you don’t have HIV and are sexually active with someone living with HIV that is detectable, taking PrEP can decrease your risk of exposure. PrEP is also an option if you aren’t living with HIV and unaware of your partner’s status.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states PrEP will reduce your risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent.

Taking PrEP involves:

  • regular medical appointments
  • being screened for HIV before getting a prescription, and every three months after
  • taking a pill each day

PrEP may be covered by your insurance, or you might be able to find a program that subsidizes the medication.

Besides taking PrEP, you should consider other options for safer sex, like using condoms. PrEP takes one to three weeks to offer protection, depending on the sexual activity. It doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

PEP

PEP is an oral medication taken after sex if there has been a risk of exposure to HIV. For instance, when a condom breaks or if you’ve come in contact with blood or bodily fluids from someone whose HIV status you don’t know.

PEP is only effective if you take it within three days of exposure to HIV and must be taken twice a day for 28 days.

Know which type of sex is safest

There are two types of anal intercourse. Being on top during sex is known as insertive anal sex. Insertive anal sex may lower the risk of contracting HIV if exposed.

Receptive anal sex (being the bottom) is when your partner’s penis penetrates you. It’s considered to put you at higher risk of contracting HIV if exposed.

Although extremely rare, it’s possible to contract HIV through oral sex. Using a condom or latex barrier during oral sex may also reduce the risk of contracting other STIs.

There is no risk of getting HIV if bodily fluids haven’t been exchanged. These activities may still be susceptible to some STIs.

Use protection

Using a condom when you have sex may decrease the risk of HIV infection. Condoms can also protect you from other STIs.

Learn how to use a condom correctly to reduce the chance that it breaks or malfunctions during sex. Use a condom made of durable materials like latex. Avoid ones made from natural materials, as there isn’t a sign they protect against HIV.

Lubricants may also lessen the risk of exposure because they prevent condoms from malfunctioning.

When choosing a lubricant:

  • Find a lubricant that is water- or silicone-based.
  • Avoid oil-based lubricants. These include Vaseline or hand lotion.
  • Don’t use lubricants with nonoxynol-9 because it can be irritating.

Don’t share intravenous needles

It’s crucial that you don’t share intravenous needles or syringes with anyone. You risk infection if you share a needle with someone who doesn’t have their virus under control.

Outlook

It will need work, but by practicing safer-sex options, a healthy and complete romantic relationship with a someone living with HIV is possible. By considering a preventive medication like PrEP, you can reduce your chances of exposure to HIV. And by supporting your partner in managing his HIV, his health may benefit.

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