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April 15th, 2010

Choose one: always “safer sex” or always tell your HIV status?

Once again, the HIV disclosure debate has heated up among prevention advocates, the media, and front-line sexually active men and women just trying to get laid. It all boils down to this: should sharing your status be morally mandatory, or does having protected sex let an HIV positive sex partner off the hook?

darren-chiacchiaThis time, Olympic equestrian Darren Chiacchia finds himself in the center of the controversy, and his liberty hangs in the balance. In late January Chiacchia was arrested by Florida’s Marion County Sheriff’s Office after a former sexual partner accused Chiacchia of exposing him to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Mr. Chiacchia, who pleaded not guilty in February, faces up to 30 years in prison under a Florida law passed in 1997 that makes it a felony for people with HIV to have sexual intercourse without informing their partners of their condition. His trial is scheduled to begin in June, his lawyer said.

Nowhere in the charges does it stipulate that Chiacchia has unprotected sex with his accuser, who has not revealed his own HIV status. What if Chiacchia had always practiced safe sex with the accuser. Would that have been enough?

HIV disclosure laws, which exist in 32 states, are largely born out of ignorance and fear, equating the body fluids of an infected person to a lethal weapon and some even wrongly attributing HIV transmission to saliva (just ask the HIV positive man serving 30 years in Texas for spitting on a police officer).

safersexIgnorant lawmakers aside, I can no longer in good conscience engage in sex with someone who doesn’t know my status. Let’s just say it lowers the anxiety level. But I am in the relatively privileged position of having strong social support, and I don’t fear repercussions from others learning of my status, as many people do. For many like them, their understandable fear prevents them from disclosing. So in the absence of disclosure, I believe protecting your partner by practicing safe sex every time qualifies as “doing the right thing.”

Further muddying the waters is valid new evidence that HIV positive, compliant patients may not be able to transmit the virus at all, if they have had a undetectable viral load and have been on medications consistently. In other words, there may be a pistol in my pocket, but it isn’t loaded, my darling.

No wonder sex partners, even after disclosing their status, are making a variety of choices sexually. Poz partners seeking out other poz partners exclusively (see my video blog on serosorting), negative “tops” partnering positive “bottoms” without protection (with risk estimated at 1 in 2,500), and even couples, as outlined above, that include a positive partner without a viral load making a choice to have unprotected sex.

safersexprejudiceIf you’re ignorant about safer sex guidelines and believe that you should be informed of a partner’s HIV status before you agree to kiss them, you’re too stupid to be reading my blog. Please find out more from reliable public health sources or quietly return to your Miley Cyrus CD and put off sex indefinitely. Lady GaGa has a point, after all.

The details in the Darren Chiacchia case are too sketchy to conclude if he knowingly put his accuser at risk, or if he used protection. More will certainly be revealed if the case makes it to its June trial date without a plea bargain agreement.

I choose to disclose my status but I don’t want laws imposing it, especially when they’re enforced to play “gotcha!” with past sex partners rather than being based on rational public health policy.

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2 Responses to “Choose one: always “safer sex” or always tell your HIV status?”

  1. Oziel Mdletshe Says:

    April 16th, 2010 at 5:04 am

    A disclosure it is a choice of the individual, also goes with benefits that you need as infected person…What most count and important is to protect one another”safer sex”….

  2. Robert Meek Says:

    May 29th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Back when I was 3,000 pounds lighter, and 10,000 years younger, and HIV negative, I could snag a trick easily, and did so, many a time.

    When I was diagnosed with HIV, 8 years ago, I knew that I would have to disclose – to everyone. “Everyone” being all my friends, family, and potential dates, tricks, etc.

    All my straight friends cope fine with it, calmly asking very informed questions like “So, do you just have the virus, or AIDS?” I noted quickly, by putting them to the test (“May I have a glass of water?”) that they had no hesitation at all of giving me a glass out of their kitchen.

    Some of my gay friends didn’t do so well. (“It’s your own fault. You should have never trusted him.” This came from someone HIV neg, who lost is poz partner. I pointed this out. His response about his 13 years with his partner was “I never trusted him, and always made him use a condom.”)

    Needless to say, the ones that faired poorly, I “unfriended” before Facebook existed and made that word a reality.

    But that was gay men. Lesbian friends seem to do okay with it.

    However, I found out quickly, out at the bars, that the moment I said “I have HIV” they made a quick exit.

    They all assumed they didn’t have it. None of them alluded to adhering to safer sex. I can only presume they were assuming that they were negative. Whatever the case was, they were very judgmental.

    After several rebuffs, I decided to quit looking, because I got tired of the hasty retreats, the rejections.

    Nowadays, I’m not healthy enough, but that another topic. Suffice it to say the libido is gone, and I am actually glad.

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