Everyone has talked about a particular status in his or her life, be it their relationship status, their financial status, and heck people talk about their problems on their Facebook status all the time! But one thing that’s rarely talked about is one’s HIV status. Despite its relevance today it is still greatly stigmatized and has been thought of as taboo by many. This monthly column aims to help facilitate discussion on issues surrounding HIV testing and living with HIV.

This Valentine’s season, there may be a number of people who will feel pressured to find someone to potentially spend a lifetime, or at least a night, with. Some might go on a hugot status blast on their social media accounts, while others might be relatively more proactive and try their luck in dating apps.
It seems being in a relationship is so romanticized that people want to rush into it. However, with 26 people being diagnosed as HIV positive every day[1], do couples practice timely testing as a means of preventing HIV infection? There are trends abroad[2,3,4] that say no. Do we fare any better?

We talked to a gay couple and a straight couple from 18 to 22 years old regarding their views on the relevance of HIV status in their relationships. Note that according to the December 2016 HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report, 29% of the 750 newly diagnosed HIV cases in the Philippines that month belonged to the 15-24 age group.

CJ Punzalan and Lawrence Gatpandan are graduating university students who have been together for close to 15 months, while Gem Balatbat and Nica Magcale are fresh graduates who work in real estate and have been dating for 3 months. It is important to note however, that the statements by each of our participants do not reflect the views of all couples, their affiliated institutions, nor of all people of the same gender identity and sexual orientation.

The first question we asked was whether they’ve talked about HIV before. Both couples responded they had limited discussions about the topic. Despite the importance of knowing one’s HIV status, some seemed hesitant to get tested.

Gem: [in response to Nica saying that she had asked Gem about HIV] It was in passing. It wasn’t an in-depth conversation.

Lawrence: When I got tested, he [CJ] was afraid to come with me when I asked him to. He was scared, so I just got tested with my friend. I noticed that I was getting sick more often. I got worried and a little paranoid. I was bothered with the symptoms, and there was only one way to find out. So I got tested.

When asked why they don’t talk about HIV as much, they mentioned they never thought they would have to deal with it.

Gem: I also think that it’s not just that people are not aware about HIV. It’s just that it’s also because people don’t have that urgency that it [getting infected with HIV] can also happen to them.

However, they agreed that getting tested for HIV is important. They even mentioned it must be part of what couples discuss.

CJ: It’s better to be well informed when it comes to that [HIV status] even before you get into a relationship. Actually, especially before you get into a relationship. It’s not only for yourself; it’s also for your future partner.

I guess it boils down to communication because, like I said earlier, it’s important for couples to be actually open with each other, as open as possible if you’re going to be life partners. So it’s important that you be transparent to each other, especially when it comes to those big decisions.

When asked about the possibility of being serodiscordant (a couple with one being HIV positive while the other being HIV negative) there were some mixed responses. However, the couples claimed they would readily communicate with their partner.

CJ: Of course, nobody would want to be positive if that [the partner turns out HIV positive] happens, right? love him, and I can’t imagine my future without him. I don’t think I would let  something like that [partner’s HIV positive status] stop us from being together. But as much as possible, I would wanna be safe from it [HIV].

Lawrence: I would wonder at first, wonder from whom he got it. But of course, after that, I’ll accept him if I found out that he was positive. Most likely, he would have a lot of negative thoughts to the point that he won’t even trust himself. So who else would stand by his side if he ruminates? That’s my role if ever, to guide and support him.

Gem: [referring to possibly infecting his partner if he were HIV positive] I would feel guilty knowing that there’s that possibility that I could impact her life like that as well.

Earlier I posed a question – if couples practice timely testing as a means of HIV prevention. Both couples in this interview said no. However, in response to another question, all the interviewees said that “people should get tested for HIV before getting into and during a relationship.” But if you’ve noticed, only one of them knew their HIV status at the time of the interview.

On the brighter side, the couples started asking more questions about HIV and where they could get tested after the interview, showing that initiating casual conversations about HIV can create a positive effect on how people act to take care of themselves.

One might feel cautious when initiating a talk about HIV and other more personal matters with their current or future partner. After all, such conversations require one to be more open, at times vulnerable, which some might not be comfortable with at the onset. This kind of feeling has been eloquently described by James Frey, saying, “Loss of control is always the source of fear. It is also, however, always the source of change.”

Getting yourself tested with your partner can be the start of a more positive change in your relationship. It can be a personal milestone, if not a celebration of your love for yourself. Happy Valentine’s Day from LoveYourself!

LoveYourself offers LoveYourself Purple, an HIV testing and counseling service for couples. To request a schedule, click here.

Text by Carlos Diego A. Rozul