Beginnings and Ends
You may wonder why there’s a relationships page on a website about staying HIV negative; the simple answer is that men in Victoria are becoming HIV positive within their significant relationships as well as in casual or anonymous sexual encounters. This section discusses some of the main reasons why men can be vulnerable to HIV within their relationships and what you can do to HIV-proof your relationships.
Beginnings and Ends
The beginning and the end of a relationship are periods in which your risk of getting or passing on HIV and other STIs is increased. This section explains why and how to be careful at the beginning of a relationship: the next section explains what can put you at risk at the end of a relationship.
Safety and security are two of the defining and most appealing features of a relationship – but it is these very feelings of safety and security in a significant relationship that lead some men to take the unnecessary sexual health risk of not using condoms with their new partner.
It’s easy to associate HIV and other STIs with anonymous or casual sex and forget that HIV doesn’t care whether you’re in a relationship or not – only whether or not it has an opportunity to pass from one body to another.
Before you stop using condoms with your new partner, we recommend you both get STI and HIV tests at the beginning of a new relationship. This ensures that neither of you are bringing anything unexpected into that relationship. Men should use condoms together until they know from the test results that they are both HIV negative*.
(*Many HIV positive men decide to stop using condoms with other HIV positive men. However, HIV positive men need to be cautious of getting or passing on other STIs and other, potentially drug-resistant strains of HIV to each other. See under ‘If you are both HIV positive’ in the HIV/AIDS & safe sex section of this website).
The condom-free relationship
If you and your partner want to stop using condoms together see the ‘negotiated safety’ page in the relationships menu, which explains the four steps that men in a relationship can take together in order to safely stop using condoms together. Basically, the process involves getting tested together (twice), so you’re both sure of each other’s HIV status, and then making some decisions together about how to ensure that neither of you subsequently brings HIV into the relationship, even if it’s open and you have sex with other men.
If you feel that not using condoms together increases the sense of intimacy and trust between you then getting tested together first is the way to do it – rather than not using condoms before you’re actually 100% sure of your – or his – HIV status.
"I didn’t use condoms in my relationship because it was monogamous, so when I came out of that relationship I didn’t use condoms and I didn’t want to use condoms. I was just feeling lost and all that stuff and hating the world and I’m surprised I’m here today and I’m surprised I’m still negative." Franck.
"He was always ‘my eyes’ – if I was ‘messy’ (i.e. strongly affected by drugs and/or alcohol) he would look out for me. So when somebody came up to the sling and went to fuck me without a condom, even while he was in the throes of fucking somebody else, he yelled out: "OY!" When we broke up, it took me quite a while to realise that my ‘eyes’ weren’t there any more, and that I had to take responsibility for what was going on sexually..." Dean.
As Frank and Dean’s stories suggest, your sexual health can be vulnerable at the end of a relationship as well as at the beginning. Just as men might not use condoms with a new partner in the rush and excitement of a new relationship, men can also make poor sexual health decisions at the end of a relationship for exactly the opposite reason – because they are depressed or even self-destructive after a break-up.
Like Frank, in the emotional turmoil of a break-up, men can fail to realise that their changed circumstances require a change in behaviour: not using condoms with his partner in a monogamous relationship was perfectly safe (if they got tested together first) but, once the relationship ended, Frank’s sexual behaviour also changed – he was having casual sex with more than one partner – and therefore he needed to rethink his sexual health precautions as well.
As well as considering the practical changes required by a change in your relationship status, it’s also a good idea to be on the alert for negative, depressive or even self-destructive emotions that can affect your self-esteem and sense of self-preservation after a relationship break-up. If you’re feeling low after a break-up, use friends or a counsellor to help you recognise and deal with any potentially self-destructive attitudes. (See below for contact details).
Being in a relationship won’t protect you from HIV - unless you make the most of the advantages of being in a relationship - good communication in particular. Honest and effective communication is probably the most important factor in keeping your relationship sexually healthy. From beginning to end, communication is key to adapting as a couple to change as it happens
However, honesty and communication about sex can be a particular challenge in the beginning of a relationship: for example, when is the right time to discuss with your new partner whether or not you want to be monogamous? Some men avoid discussing this because they’re afraid their would-be partner will have different views or needs. What happens, for example, when one partner expects a monogamous relationship and the other partner expects an open relationship? Some men prefer to assume that their partner wants the same thing they do rather than having a potentially confronting conversation about it.