HIV/AIDS: Tips for making HIV discordancy work

Published: February 16, 2012

JOHANNESBURG, 14 February 2012 (PlusNews) – No one said love was easy. This Valentine’s Day, IRIN/PlusNews brings you tips for making love and HIV work, from a couple who’ve been there, done that and stayed together.

Pholokgolo Ramothwala and his partner have been together since they met through mutual friends in 2003. He’s living with HIV, she’s not, and neither are their two children. Ramothwala gave us their tips for living successfully and safely.

1. Understand the risk

"For the partner that’s HIV-negative – help them understand what they’re dealing with. In the end, there’s still the possibility of HIV infection and if it happens they need to be prepared for that."

If you’re not sure about the risks, get a second opinion from a medical professional you trust. Finding the right doctor who is supportive of HIV discordant couples is also important.

After disclosing to his partner, Ramothwala offered to take her to his doctor for a one-on-one question and answer session. "I wasn’t even part of the conversation," says Ramothwala.

He also took his partner through what he knew about HIV treatment, explaining disease progression and technical terms like CD4 counts, which measure the immune system’s strength, and viral loads, which gauge the amount of HIV in the blood.

Ramothwala admits the temptation to have unprotected sex is there for most discordant couples, but it’s important to resist. "You don’t want to infect your partner and then regret for the rest of your life that you should have done something about it."

2. Talk about sex

Every new couple has to figure out what works for them. Those dealing with HIV also have to figure out what works with regards to protection. The biggest mistake people make is thinking that things will work themselves out – this is what puts them at risk, he told IRIN/PlusNews.

"The other thing I’ve learned is that people don’t talk about how you have sex. There are some positions you’re just not comfortable with, there’s a likelihood that you don’t know where the condom is and it might not even be ‘in there’, so make sure that as a couple you talk about that."

"When you have built that communication bridge where you can talk about anything it’s easier for her to say, ‘What do you think about this?’"

Although it was about a year before these conversations got easier for Ramothwala and his partner, it was worth it. Once you’re used to talking about lubricants, which can decrease the risk of condoms breaking, and sexual positions, they become less daunting and you learn to joke about them, he says.

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