In this month of love, what can signify as the true essence of love is a relationship that is caring and accepting regardless of HIV status.
The term serodiscordant is made up of two root words: “Sero” which means blood and “Discordant” which means different or non-matching. A serodiscordant relationship, also known as a mixed – status, is a term usually used to refer to relationships where one partner is living with HIV and the other is non – reactive.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation published last April 2012 mentions that there are potential benefits for serodiscordant couples who get tested together for HIV infection and mutually disclose their HIV status. Among the benefits mentioned are that the couple can make informed decisions together about HIV prevention since most serodiscordant couples adopt behaviours to protect their partner.
Another potential benefit of couples testing together and sharing their results is that they can support each other, if one or both partners are HIV-positive, to immediately access and adhere to Anti-Retroviral Theraphy (ART).
An Unconventional Love Story
Theirs is a love story not for the faint hearted. Spidey and Supes (not their real names) met from the most unconventional of means, through a gay online dating site. It was love at first site for the couple since both are in a relationship left to be desired.
And before engaging in any sexual activity, both got themselves tested for HIV. Both are hopeful that the result will be non-reactive/negative. But alas, Supes turned out to be reactive to HIV. And the first thoughts he had upon seeing the result was did he infect Spidey? And will Spidey continue with the relationship despite his HIV status? Together with thoughts on his work, family and over-all well being, it overwhelmed Supes.
When he finally got the courage to open up about his status, Supes told Spidey he can choose not to be with him if his HIV status will be an issue. And he will never forgive himself if he got infected. Luckily Spidey was non-reactive/negative from HIV and reassured Supes that he will stay in the relationship despite the latter’s HIV status.
Treatment was tough for Supes as side effects on mood swings and constant dizziness and nausea plagued him every single day. But through it all Spidey stood by Supes patiently, constantly reminding him of his strict adherence to his ART. He likewise ensured that Supes is treated like any normal person without an infection/disability.
They still enjoy having sexual intercourse, ensuring they are constantly protected especially when Supes’ HIV viral load was still detectable. Thankfully Supes is now undetectable and their relationship couldn’t have gone any stronger as both are now active HIV advocates.
The journey of Supes and Spidey should be a reminder that HIV should never define who you are and are still worthy of loving and being loved in return. HIV isn’t the end of the journey, it is but a beginning of another chapter of life that may turn out to be more enjoyable and exciting.
The Triangle of Self Care for Serodiscordant Couple
Despite differing HIV status, serodiscordant couples can still enjoy sex if they follow these self care tips:
Timely Testing and Treatment
Serodiscordant couples should regularly get tested (for PLHIV, viral load testing to ensure their Undetectable status and HIV testing for the non-reactive partner) to ensure their status.Also, immediate access and strict adherence to their ART is crucial for the PLHIV partner to prevent transmission to the non-reactive partner.
Safe and Satisfying Sex
Correct and Consistent Use of Condom
The WHO guidance states that couples can stay HIV serodiscordant indefinitely when they consistently practice safer sex using condoms. Correct and consistent use of condoms and water based lubricants are essential in ensuring the status of serodiscordant couples especially if the PLHIV partner is still detectable.
For any relationship to work, communication is the key. Just like how Supes and Spidey was able to adjust to their serodiscordant status, it is important to constantly talk to each other and make a conscious decision together whether it be getting tested or accessing treatment. It is important that we better our partners towards a healthier version of themselves. And above all, accept each other regardless of status.
Text by Ronald Bugarin
Illustrations by TJ Gellada Monzon