Living with HIV
Finding out you have HIV can be tough. But with treatment and support, people with HIV can live long, healthy, fulfilling lives.
What do I do if I find out I have HIV?
Millions of people have HIV — you’re definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having HIV or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. It doesn’t mean you’re “dirty” or a bad person.
Finding out that you have HIV can be really upsetting. You might feel mad, embarrassed, scared, or ashamed at first. But you’ll probably feel better as time goes by — having a good support system and getting counseling really helps. There are medicines you can take to help you stay healthy, and lots of ways to avoid giving HIV to anyone you have sex with. The reality is, people with HIV can be in relationships, have sex, and live normal lives by taking a few precautions.
Although there’s no cure for HIV, there are medicines that help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV treatment called antiretroviral therapy (ART) lowers the amount of virus in your body (called your viral load). This does two things:
Slows down the effects of HIV in your body, which keeps you healthy.
Lowers or even stops your chances of giving HIV to sexual partners.
Some people on ART have such a small amount of virus in their body, they can’t transmit HIV to their sexual partners at all.
Even if you’re feeling totally fine right now, see a doctor as soon as you can so you can talk about the best ways to stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline can help you find a doctor near you who specializes in treating HIV: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
Taking care of your emotional health is important, too. It’s a good idea to see a counselor or therapist who’s trained to help people with HIV. There are a lot of online and in-person support groups that can give you a safe place to talk about your feelings with people who understand what you’re going through.
HIV.gov has more information about treatment, counseling, and other ways to stay physically and emotionally healthy.
It’s very important that you tell anyone you’re having sex with that you have HIV. It’s not the easiest conversation, but it’s an important one.
How do I talk with people about having HIV?
It might feel scary to admit that you have HIV, but talking about things can really ease your mind. You could lean on a close, non-judgmental friend or family member whom you trust to keep the conversation private. Counselors and support groups can also be sources of comfort — and they can help you figure out how to talk with others about your HIV. Be careful about who you tell your status to — people with HIV sometimes deal with unfair discrimination.
There’s no one right way to talk to your partners about having HIV, but here are some basic tips that might help:
Try to stay calm and remember that you’re not the only one dealing with this. Millions of people have HIV, and plenty of them are in relationships. Try to go into the conversation with a calm, positive attitude. Having HIV is a health issue, and it doesn’t mean anything about you as a person.
Know your HIV and AIDS facts. There are a lot of myths about HIV out there, so read up on the facts and be ready to answer your partner’s questions. Check out HIV.gov. Let your partner know there are medications that can help you live for a long time and avoid passing HIV to them. Safer sex — like condoms and PrEP — can also help protect your partner.
Think about timing. Pick a time when you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and a place that’s private and relaxed. If you’re nervous, you can talk it through with a friend who knows your status or a counselor first, or practice by talking to yourself. It may sound strange, but practicing saying the words out loud can help you figure out what you want to say and feel more confident when you talk to your partner.
Safety first. If you’re afraid that your partner might hurt you, you’re probably better off with an e-mail, text, or phone call — or in extreme cases, not telling them at all. Call 1-800-799-SAFE or go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website for help if you think you might be in danger.
Try not to play the blame game when you talk to your partner. If one of you tests positive during the relationship, it doesn’t automatically mean that somebody cheated. It takes a few months for HIV to show up on a test, and most people don’t have any symptoms for years. So lots of people have HIV for a long time without knowing it, and it can be hard to tell when and where someone got the virus. The most important thing is that you both get tested. If it turns out only one of you has HIV, talk about how you can keep the other one safe from HIV.
It’s really important to also tell your past partners that you have HIV, so they can get tested, too. A lot of health departments have programs that let your partners know they were exposed to HIV without giving them your name unless you want them to.
What do I need to know about dating with HIV?
Some people feel like their love lives are over when they find out they have HIV, but it’s just not true. People with HIV can have fulfilling romantic and sexual relationships. People living with HIV can have relationships with partners who don’t have HIV (called serodiscordant) or with partners that are also living with HIV (called seroconcordant). HIV treatment helps keep you healthy and helps you avoid passing HIV to someone else. If your partner does not have HIV, they can also take a medicine called PrEP that can help protect them from getting HIV through sex.
It’s important to tell your sexual partners about your HIV status. That way, you and your partners can make more informed decisions about safer sex, testing, and treatment that are right for the both of you.
It’s normal to be worried about how your partner’s going to react. And there’s no way around it: some people might get freaked out. If that happens, try to stay calm and talk about your plan to stay healthy and how they can stay HIV negative. It might help to give your partner a little time and space to process. You could also suggest they talk with your HIV doctor about ways to protect themselves from HIV.
If you tell someone you have HIV and they hurt you, shame you, or make you feel bad, it’s not ok. You deserve to be with someone who respects and cares about you, and there are plenty of people out there who will.
Will having HIV affect my pregnancy?
Babies can get infected with HIV during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding — that’s why it’s recommended that everyone get tested early in pregnancy. If you have HIV, antiretroviral medications greatly lower your chances of giving HIV to your baby. With treatment, less than 2 out of 100 babies born to women with HIV will be infected. Without treatment, about 25 out of 100 babies will be infected.