Dear Aunty Jimothy,
I’m an 18-year-old gay guy who’s never had a boyfriend. I just met this dude in college and we’ve gone out like five times. He is Sooo hot. And I like him Sooo much. But he just told me he has HIV! He’s known for a year. He says he’s ‘undetectable.’ Is that for real? We haven’t had sex, but he sucked me off once and we’ve done stuff with our hands. What do I do now!?
Shocked in Chicago
Child! Now look at what you’ve made me do. I’m clutching my pearls already!
But deep breath, please! You’re OK! You could have kissed that boy 16 ways from Sunday and not worry about getting HIV. (Even if he could give you the virus, which if he’s really undetectable, he can’t. More on that in a jiff.)
Important facts about HIV transmission
- Deep Kissing? According to medical experts, the risk of HIV transmission from open-mouth kissing is considered to be anywhere from negligible to non-existent. While there is a slight theoretical risk of HIV transmission if both partners’ mouths are freely bleeding, in practice we don’t think that’s ever actually happened. (The US CDC has some cases on file, but they’re suspect because other sexual activity took place too.)
- Mutual Masturbation? Nope! You can’t get HIV by giving your guy a hand job or by getting a hand job from him. Again, if you wanna talk theory, if semen got into an open wound, then there might be a risk. I’m not talking about scratches, though. I mean a freely bleeding wound. And just like with deep kissing, we don’t know that’s ever happened in the real world.
- Blow Jobs? Can I use a technical term? You had “insertive oral sex” with your boyfriend. You inserted your penis into his mouth. He sucked you off. The odds of getting HIV if your partner is infectious are so close to zero they might as well BE zero. The other way around is called “receptive oral sex.” The risk is still very low, though not actually zero, according the the US CDC.
OK, so you didn’t take any actual risk with this guy. What now?
Child, your guy says he’s undetectable. That’s a really important concept to understand. HIV is a virus, right? The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, to be exact. We use PCR tests to amplify and measure the genetic material of the virus in the blood of people who test positive to the presence of HIV.
When there isn’t enough virus to measure (or when the amount detected is lower than the margin of error of the test) then we say that the virus is undetectable.
What does that mean? When a person with HIV gets into treatment, they take medication that stops HIV from reproducing. After a period of time (usually about 90 days), they have no detectable virus left in their blood. If they keep taking the medication, they can expect to remain undetectable.
That’s where ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ comes in
If your guy doesn’t have any detectable virus in his blood stream, he can’t infect you with HIV. Lots of studies have been done with mixed-status couples — thousands of couples over many years, hundreds of thousands of individual acts of unprotected sex — with no instances of the HIV-negative partner becoming positive.
If your boyfriend is in treatment and if he stays in treatment, seeing his doc every 90 days like he’s supposed to, he can’t give you HIV.
That’s the science. Now how about some Auntly wisdom?
You know who’s the only person responsible for your health? You are! You have to take care of you. You have to know what risks you’re taking. You have to take your own sensible precautions, because you’re the only person who can.
Can I tell you a secret? Aunty Jimothy has been there and done that. I’ve had HIV-positive boyfriends. And I’d date an HIV-positive guy again if I liked him. But here’s the thing. I’d need to KNOW he was undetectable. I’d probably do what some of my mixed-status couple friends do. I’d go to the doctor WITH my lover every three months.
PrEP can protect you even if your partner messes up his meds
I might take PrEP for a while until I was sure things were totally cool. What’s PrEP? It’s HIV medication that will prevent infection even if you’re exposed to HIV. Hell, I know mixed status couples where the negative partner is taking PrEP just for peace of mind, even after being together for years.
Don’t forget condoms!
I stayed HIV free during a long life of debauchery and pearl clutching by making sure I used a condom every single time I had anal sex, which is where the highest transmission risk lies. They work! But besides HIV, lots of other infections get transmitted sexually. Hepatitis is no joke. Neither are drug-resistant bacterial infections. Condoms matter. And they’re hot if you use them right. Aunty prefers banana flavored. Ahem.
HIV is not the end of the world for your boyfriend
Speaking of being together for years, child, your guy can expect to live a full lifespan and enjoy it fully. He can father children if he wants. HIV is a manageable condition. He’s gonna be OK as long as he takes his meds. And so are you! Do you really, really like him? Is he the guy that makes your heart turn to jelly?
Then go for it! Fall in love! Enjoy your hot guy! You deserve it and so does he!
Why don’t you visit the campus medical clinic with him, though? Sit down with his HIV medical provider and have a frank talk. See your own doctor and ask about PrEP.
Whatever you do, if you ditch this guy just because he has HIV, I swear Aunty Jimothy will clutch her pearls, Child. And the world ain’t ready for that!
Oh, one last thing, dear. Check out my friends at Poz magazine. They’ve got centuries of accumulated wisdom packed into each edition, everything HIV and mixed-status couples need to know to lead happy, healthy lives.
POZ — Health, Life and HIV
POZ serves the community of people living with and those affected by HIV/AIDS with daily news, treatment updates…
You’re going to be fine, man! Believe it! You got this!
That’s another Aunty Jimothy column on Medium, guys and girls. Got a question? Post it under this story or email email@example.com and she’ll do her best to crank out some pearlescent balls of wisdom.
By the way, I’ve got a whole bat cave full of lesbians, trans guys and girls, and kinky polyamorous bisexual chicks. So when you ask Aunty Jimothy, you’re tapping into a lot more than just Dame Edna’s cranky nemesis.
Ask anything! Love, sex, dating, hooking up, Tinder and Grindr culture, and HIV/STD concerns. Life with your straight family. Coming out. Or not.
This Old Aunty has the Answers. Somewhere. If I can just remember where I left my purse.