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6 Questions People Ask Us Most When They Find Out They Have HIV

The 6 Biggest Questions

Is it Possible I Got a False Positive?

When your initial test comes back positive you should be offered a confirmatory test, a second test to make sure you’re HIV-positive. The likelihood of two false positives is extremely rare. If you took the at-home test, it’s a good idea to go to a doctor or clinic for the second test. False negative test results can happen too, so if you come up positive and your partner comes up negative, be cautious. According to AIDS.gov, “It takes time for seroconversion to occur. This is when your body begins to produce the antibodies an HIV test is looking for — anywhere from two weeks to six months after infection. So if you have an HIV test with a negative result within three months of your last possible exposure to HIV, the CDC recommends that you be retested three months after that first screening test. A negative result is only accurate if you haven’t had any risks for HIV infection in the last six months.”

How Many Former Sex Partners Do I Have to Tell?

This is kind of a murky area, with debate between activists and public policy experts. You will be asked to notify, or have the health department notify, anyone you have had sex with or shared needles with since your last negative HIV test or, if this was your first one, your recent sex partners (say, in the last year). Your partner(s) will need to be tested now and, if their test is negative, again in three months. According to the New York Department of Health, how far back in time known partners should be reported is determined on a case-by-case basis depending on such factors as the approximate dates when you believe you were exposed and how willing (or able) you are to dig up those names and contact info. The federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program requires states to make a good-faith effort to notify current spouses and anyone who has been the HIV-positive person’s spouse within the last 10 years. However, public health departments and clinics aren't supposed to pressure you for this information and they cannot withhold your test results or penalize you in any way for not divulging.

What Will Change Now That I'm Poz?

With proper treatment, being HIV-positive is a manageable, chronic condition like lupus, diabetes, or asthma. You might need to exercise caution with some of your regular activities. Unless you had other health conditions prior to diagnosis, you’ll likely see a physician more than you did before because it’s vital that you monitor your health closely. Regular visits with your HIV health care provider will keep you up to date. Speak with your doctor about changes that need to be made to your diet, exercise regimen, and use of alcohol, prescription medicines, and recreational drugs. If drugs were a factor in your transmission (there’s a link between crystal meth use and HIV transmission, for example), your doctor may recommend rehab. You may tire more easily, be more prone to infections, or have medical side effects you didn’t have before. But hands down, the biggest change in your daily routine will be taking medication. HIV medication requires strict adherence to the prescribed daily dosage, and the drugs often have (mostly minor) side effects. Open communication with your doctor will ensure that you are fully equipped to handle the changes in your life.

Can I transmit HIV through Oral Sex?

Because you can’t transmit HIV through saliva, you cannot pass HIV to your partner if you perform oral sex on them. Period. 

With blow jobs, it is technically possible, but extremely rare, to transmit HIV to your partner if you ejaculate into their mouth. Years ago, a study by Eric Vittinghoff, a professor at University of California San Francisco’s Center School of Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, looked at oral transmission among men who had sex with men. He determined the rate of HIV transmission via oral sex was about four one-hundredths of one percent (0.0004). In fact, by the early 2000s — decades after the start of the AIDS epidemic, with more than 36 million people infected by the virus world wide — fewer than 40 cases of possible oral transmission had been reported in medical literature. “HIV acquisition by receptive oral sex without ejaculation is so unlikely, that we don’t have any firm evidence even to show that it actually occurs,” said Dr. Laurence Peiperl, former director of UCSF Center for HIV Information, at a roundtable on the subject. So it’s a biological possibility but it’s exceedingly rare and here’s why: As an HIV-positive man, even if you ejaculate into someone else’s mouth, they need to have open wounds in the mucous membranes in their mouth in order for the virus to penetrate them. Swallowing semen or pre-cum is not a risk because stomach acid and other enzymes kill HIV. 

And if you are a woman with HIV, having someone perform cunnilingus on you is also extremely low risk, especially if you’re not menstruating and your partner doesn't have open sores in her or his mouth (even then the risk is low). Although the risk of HIV transmission is exceedingly low, you can still get other sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea, via oral sex.

Are There symptoms I Should Watch Out For Now?

There are certain signs and symptoms to look out for and a few health factors that should be constantly monitored. According to Rose Farnan, RN, and Maithe Enriquez, RN, authors of What Nurses Know About HIV/AIDS, you should pay special attention to particular symptoms: diarrhea, weight loss or loss of appetite, trouble or pain when swallowing, white patches or sores in or around your mouth, long-lasting fever, new cough, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, or difficulty remembering things. It can be hard to distinguish whether these symptoms are just passing or sign of a more serious issue, but keeping track of your body’s patterns will greatly benefit your health. Farnan and Enriquez suggest keeping written records of weight and other factors that can change over time.

Do I Need to Stop Having Sex?

No! In fact, we encourage you not to. Orgasms help you sleep, boost your immunoglobulin levels (which fight infections), and reduce stress and depression. There are ways to protect yourself and your partner, including condom use, PrEP (for an HIV-negative partner), serosorting, and Treatment as Prevention 

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