Hookups, Dating & Love, Where Status Doesn’t Matter.

We’ve known for years that condoms are highly effective at preventing all kinds of things; from pregnancy to HIV.  And while there have been multiple ways to prevent pregnancies to allow couples to feel the amazingness of condomless sex, up until 6 years ago, the only way to prevent HIV came down to two methods: condoms or abstinence. And while a lot of people accept using condoms for the random hookup or at the beginning of a relationship, many people wouldn’t entertain the thought a long-term relationship where condoms would always stand between themselves and the person they love.

Fast-forward to 2018, where condoms are still a tried & true method of preventing (almost) anything, but two other tools have made condomless sex a possibility with an equivalent level of HIV prevention: PrEP and U=U. It’s a new day, where you can focus on the person you meet, not a status on a piece of paper.

We dug through the archives of the Arizona Republic to find a 1997 Dear Abby clip where a reader asks the famous know-it-all what to do with her new love, whose HIV status was different than hers. Enjoy this special edition of Throwback Thursday, where we’ll take a look at mixed-status relationships, then and now!

Then…

Whenever we wonder why HIV stigma is still so prevalent today, it wasn’t that long ago when articles were being published and language was being used like “HIV Carrier”, “never letting your guard down”, and where “HIV” and “AIDS” were said interchangeably.  The doom-and-gloom messages were hard and fierce – and certainly made a long-lasting impression that have been hard to re-imagine in our minds.

Protecting yourself “against” a person with a virus made it easy for society to shun a person and label them as dangerous or toxic. However, even Abby herself knew that there was no stopping love, and wanted to make sure this reader had the tools she needed to reduce the risk of transmission in that era of HIV, and how to support and take care of her new lover as he lives with HIV. Because of the popularity of “the pill”, it was almost unimaginable to think of a mixed-status heterosexual couple being “forced” to use condoms for the duration of their relationship, but condoms were set for years as the everyday gay norm.

Now…

Condoms still have their rightful and effective place for HIV, STI, and pregnancy prevention, but it’s no longer your only option to prevent HIV.  Let’s take a look at all three preventative tools available today that effectively prevent the spread of HIV – where we all have an important role, regardless of status.

Condoms, “Highly effective in preventing HIV transmission” – CDC:

A two-year study of mixed-status couples (in which one partner was HIV-positive and one was HIV-negative), there were zero transmissions within couples using condoms correctly and consistently at every act of anal or vaginal sex according to this article.

PrEP “No new HIV infections” – Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes:

A two-and-a-half year study of nearly 1,000 real-world PrEP users by Kaiser Permanente also showed zero new HIV infections for people who remained adherent to the medication – taking it once a day.  It doesn’t, however, prevent STI’s; so condoms will still be a more comprehensive solution for your random hookups to protect against HIV and STI’s.  However, if you’re heading into a mixed status relationship or dating someone with an unknown status where STI’s are no longer a focus, PrEP can provide an equivalent preventative measure for the HIV-negative partner. Just like “the pill” – PrEP must be taken once-a-day to be effective. If you’re missing doses, keep a stash of condoms in your nightstand until you get back into your daily PrEP routine.

U=U:“Zero HIV transmissions from a positive partner on ART to their negative partner” – PARTNER Study:

A three-and-a-half year PARTNER study followed nearly 900 mixed status couples who had sex over 58,000 times where the HIV-positive partner was taking HIV medications daily with undetectable viral load, and no other prevention methods were used. It also showed zero new HIV infections, making the CDC and hundreds of other organizations around the world declare that Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) in late 2017.  Again, being undetectable has no affect on STIs, so condoms will still be more comprehensive for sex with new partners, random partners, or if there’s a question if you or your partner’s viral load is undetectable.

Commit and Go Find Love.

Regardless of your status, we have three highly effective preventative tools available today to prevent the spread of HIV – it’s up to you to decide which you’re willing to commit to and how they fit into the type of sex you like to have.  If condoms have worked for you, stick with it!  But if you know in your heart-of-hearts that you don’t always roll the rubber down on your love-muscle in the heat of the moment, or if you’d like to take the condoms off in your relationship – you have options that will allow you to have skin-on-skin action with an equivalent reduction in HIV risk.

We’ve come a long way in a short time.  HIV status should no longer be a factor in who you get with; however, your ongoing commitment to a prevention method is a factor. Pick a method, stick with it, and go find love.