HIV & sex in relationships
Having safe sex in relationships can be complicated by the play of strong emotions. Feelings like trust and closeness can make it difficult to have safe sex' 'Because you trust somebody you don't think to use condoms.' The views expressed here are of gay and Black African communities that we interviewed in 2005. Several people we talked to believed they became infected with HIV because they trusted their partners and were unaware their partners were infected with HIV or having unsafe sex outside the relationship. Also having safe sex is not always straightforward. For instance, a partner who wants safe sex may have trouble convincing the other.
He believed that a partner was responsible for his HIV infection. (Read by an actor.)
She stayed on with me, she stayed with me for about six years all over, living with me… And then she was accusing my other girlfriend to be responsible also. She was saying, no she is the one responsible.
So later we discovered that she was actually the one that was responsible. And how I came to know that, after she has left me, when my family came to join me, she's a friend to… she is the friend to the wife of my friend. So she revealed to the friend of my friend, to his or her own girlfriend, her own girlfriend as well.
So anyway she revealed to her that she was in that situation, that she had the HIV… But she didn't tell them that she gave it to me because all along she has been denying that she's was responsible for this. So that was what happened… I feel very, very sad, in fact, I just… I don't think I can ever forgive that girl. I cannot. If I didn't know the person that caused this to me, that's a different thing.
But I, when I know the person that caused it, I mean if I knew it's not just easy to forget about it, but, well, that is life. She has left my place, I'm on my own, I have my family, I am living well, living happily with my family.
He mistakenly believed himself to be HIV negative and so it upset him when his partner insisted...
I have done a very stupid thing because, when I had sex, I really do like to do sex without the condom and he said no. Because his last boyfriend for ten years their relationship, have died of HIV.
And he said, 'No, I don't want to.' I said, 'But why, because you are positive?' He said, 'No, I'm not positive. But I have been with someone that is positive for five, for six years. And I said to myself, never do sex without condom, and I don't want this to happen again.'
Then he asked me, it's very funny because he asked, 'What happened if you are, if you discovered that I was positive?'… So we didn't have sex without a condom, I stayed very upset about that. Then I go back to London I said, 'I will do some tests, to prove for you that I don't have nothing, and I want to have sex without condom.' And he said, he said, 'Whatever you do, I will not do sex without condom.' I said, 'OK, but I will do this test anyway.'
After two weeks I went to take the result… And I never remember, I never forget .. they said, 'Unfortunately, you are positive.' This, this was the kind of thing that the, the world is stopped. And I said… this guy that I wish I don't speak English, not learning or don't understand English, because I said, 'Excuse me, are you sure that this is my test?' I they said, 'Would you like see?' I said, 'Yeah, I would like to see.'
There… the world is stopping there. I didn't, you know, I didn't remember nothing. Everything that I knew about HIV it's disappeared. I just it is stopped. The whole world stopped. I just remember that I just was start to cry, cry, cry…
Says that sex between people is complex and it can be difficult to get men to use condoms. (Read...
When I was with a person I thought had lots of girls, I would want to use condoms. But then again it was difficult because back there, and even here with black men I would say, when… they're not very keen on condoms at all and it's very difficult. They sort of talk you out of it, they're not like… they don't really, it's not like they force you to do it, but they sometimes talk you out of it.
And you then feel… as a woman, it's very easy to start feeling that… cos you're with a man, you want to please him or satisfy him, so you just want to do what he really wants you know. So yeah, that I found difficult. And also the fact that I could… I mean they… My experience a few times I would say is when a black man doesn't want to use condoms and the woman will say…
If I'm saying I want to use condoms, they can easily get, you know, spoil the mood and just turn off you know sort of… it's difficult. Their mood could change as in… you know, and then maybe they'll start complaining that you know, 'I'm OK, I'm fine so why are you using condoms…?' Cos again, they're also ignorant about the risk as well, yeah.
Lack of sex in a relationship did not necessarily mean the end of relationships, especially for gay men we talked to. Sex had stopped in some long-term gay relationships for a various reasons including relationships naturally becoming more like close friendships, fear of transmitting HIV, low libido caused by treatments, illness (which was not sexy said one man) and for psychological reasons. Nevertheless, men in such relationships described 'very close and strong bonds' with partners and said they could find sex outside the main relationship if they wanted to.
At the time of his diagnosis, despite a strong bond there was too much else to think about to...
I still do have a sex life. It is' I suppose what you would describe as, sort of one night stands or anonymous encounters.
Negotiating safe sex
The people we talked to were very concerned about protecting their HIV negative partners from HIV. Nevertheless, people disagreed about whether or not condom use was easy to maintain in such relationships: 'I don't believe it's difficult to practise safe sex,' said one man. 'I can't say it (condoms) was particularly easy, but it's just something you just have to adapt to… something you had to face and overcome,' said another man. One man claimed, 'There's no man who would not like having sex without a condom.' It was easier for people who had always used condoms for sex to use condoms in relationships - a younger gay man said his generation took condom use for granted. One woman said that whether or not a man uses a condom feels 'just the same to me.'
Found it easy to introduce condoms into his sex life with his wife.
For HIV positive people in relationships with HIV negative partners, considerations of HIV could present problems. Thinking about HIV could detract from enjoying sex and relationships: 'If he'd become positive I think it would have been devastating…,' said one man.
He can't cope with the idea that his partner might be upset by his HIV. (Read by an actor.)
I have found and I still find the most difficult thing… The mo- thing that I, I really find most difficult to deal with is not how I feel, it's how the other person would feel. So I'm having a long term relationship at the moment for… oh, it's been in fact 2 or 3 years. And that's very strong.
But the, the thing I find the worst is the… kind of the sadness when they think about it. Or when I think about it. There's that kind of… Even though my doctor has told me that… He says, 'You're not going to die of this anymore. You know, you're going to die of a heart attack or be run over in the street.' It's that kind of… It's that… It is a, it is a rather… When I think about it, I find it, I find it rather sad.
And I've found that issue I do dodge a little. The sadness of the HIV… I don't actually like seeing things on TV about HIV when I'm with my partner. It just makes me feel like oh my God, how can I… why did I… how did I become HIV? And how does it affect, you know, the person that I'm with? It's upsetting them. Because, you know, they're upset that I've got it.
While they always had safe sex, using condoms felt like missing out on a reward.
Yeah, there would have been no transmission worries and things like that.
He feels his partner is worried about becoming infected with HIV and he finds it hard to enjoy...
Sometimes I am not interested in sex cos… I sometimes feel weaker, yeah. Sometimes I just feel, I don't know… maybe I'm just wasting her time because I just don't feel like enjoying it like the other days, the early days when I got involved, or the days when I was married.
It's now very different. It's just something that I will… just trying to make myself… try to enjoy or to… to just fulfil the desire, but that sex is no longer enjoyable.
Cos once, one, the person I am sleeping with, she always try to look whether the condom is, the condoms are OK. You see, so something like… if she cannot just tell you that she does not trust you, but you can see from the reaction. So obviously my reaction also, I have a feeling that no, no, I could have this thing more enjoyable, but I can't, just because of the status I have.
But anyway… I always have different feelings. Anyway, as long as I am still alive, as long as I am having my treatment, I can live longer.
While some negative partners said they did not have a problem with a HIV positive partner, in practice, there could still be problems in the relationship e.g. fear of contracting HIV in sex. Some people were concerned that their HIV negative partners were not careful enough to avoid HIV: 'I thought more about HIV than he did. He wasn't as careful I think as he should have been,' said one man. A few people even talked about arguing to maintain safe sex with HIV negative partners who wanted to have unsafe sex for a range of reasons, such as wanting to feel close to their partner.
Although his HIV negative partners said they had no problems with HIV, HIV did create problems.
It was difficult to convince his HIV negative partner that he should use condoms for anal sex.
With the difficulties in HIV positive-negative relationships, positive-positive relationships could be easier. Even though at the time of writing there were few recorded cases of re-infection with drug-resistant HIV globally, many positive people used condoms with positive partners because they were cautious. Some were also concerned about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis and hepatitis C which were much more likely than HIV re-infection and used condoms so as not to pick up another sexually transmitted infection. Some said they were prepared to take the risk of not using condoms with other HIV positive partners for the additional pleasure or feeling of not using condoms.
A number of people (the black African individuals in particular) believed it was important to find partners who were also HIV positive because of the fear of infecting other people during sex, and the potential for prosecution in the UK for transmitting HIV to someone who was not infected.
Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.