Modern medicine provides people living with HIV with the opportunity to have a normal sex life with their partner.
Our society is familiar with the challenges of AIDS and the problems that it entails when these issues appear on soap operas; but before this, these issues were hidden, almost completely removed from society. In these storylines, it is more and more common for characters that are infected with the AIDS virus to appear, yet the way in which the virus is presented is through a drama that deals with how the character will continue on in their life. In reality, the advances of medical science have made it possible for anyone that contracts the disease to live a full life if diagnosed on time, even a full sex life.
Couples where one partner is seropositive and the other is seronegative have been referred to by doctors as discordant couples. These couples are found in heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual relationships and it is quite common for the couple to visit an infectious disease specialist to learn about how to continue on with their lives. Some decide to completely end their relationship, others continue to live together and leave sex behind, and there are those that seek alternatives so as not to have to change the routine of their daily lives.
Infectious disease doctor, María Angélica Maya, explains that it is possible for a discordant couple to have safe sex, yet two guidelines should be followed: antiretroviral therapy should be started, which can take more than a year, and the use of condoms should always be applied correctly.
As the specialist explains, “HIV treatment works to reduce the quantity of the virus in the blood to a great scale. It has been proven that when virus levels are very low, the risk of transmission reduces. This is what is known as viral load, which can be measured by a test. If the viral load is low and a condom is used, there is no risk of infection. The patient’s healthcare system offers antiretroviral treatment to patients with seronegative partners, and the government grants them a certain number of condoms per month.”
Keep in mind that someone that is seropositive should inform their partner that they are a carrier of the disease before they begin a relationship. If they do not do this, they will have committed a crime that is mandated by law. Once the partner is informed, and having reached a mutual agreement, the couple then decides the path they want to take.
“I have had patients that continue to have normal sex lives and others that decide to share their lives together, but without sex. When someone finds out that they are positive, they go into shock, some go into denial and others become depressed. There are alternatives to help you live longer, however: antiretroviral treatment takes effect after about 48 weeks or one year. The patient must understand that they are beginning a new life, a life of living with the disease,” Dr. Maya states.
One key factor to keep in mind, according to the specialist, is the use of a condom. When studies or lab tests are conducted, all of the right measures and proper uses of a condom are applied, which are not applied in reality, “In foreplay, they are not used and yet discharge is prevalent; or lubricants are used that can make the condom porous and there are those that even reuse the condom, making the risk of transmission very high.”
Another myth that exists among society is that the disease is only active when it is detected, but in reality it begins upon the moment of infection.
“Let’s say one day you have intercourse with someone that has HIV and you become infected, from this day forward the virus will attack your cells. These cells are called CD4 cells and are very important for fighting infections. The problem is that it can take several years to detect this irregularity. These cells have to be greatly reduced as the body can have about 1,200 cells/mm3 and yet it generally only begins to be susceptible to infection when they lower to about 350 cells/mm3.”
It is never too late to keep in mind that HIV tests can be taken periodically, especially if you have an open sexual lifestyle and if you engage in behavior that can put you at risk. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), towards the end of 2014, 14.9 million people throughout the world were on antiretroviral therapy, which represents 40% of the 36.9 million people in the world that are living with HIV/AIDS. When this therapy is started in the early phases of infection, people have the opportunity to lead normal lives. It is important for those living with this disease to take care of conditions that are related to it such as stress, addiction or psychological issues, which can affect the patient’s quality of life