Love in the Time of HIV: When Stigma Couldn’t Stop These Couples
WHO estimates that globally as many as half of all HIV-positive people in long-term relationships have HIV-negative partners.
WHO estimates that globally as many as half of all HIV-positive people in long-term relationships have HIV-negative partners.(Photo: iStock/Altered by The Quint)

Love in the Time of HIV: When Stigma Couldn’t Stop These Couples

They met three years ago. They were the usual suspects at a play rehearsal. But what followed was unusual, not for them but for “society”. Sarang and his partner bumped into each other on a normal work day, marking the beginning of their love story.

The fact that he had been diagnosed with HIV in 2012 was never a defining point in their relationship. His partner knew about Sarang’s positive status right from the start. Over the next few months, with a ‘yes’ from Sarang, their friendship blossomed into romance.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally as many as half of all HIV-positive people in long-term relationships have HIV-negative partners – forming what are known as serodiscordant couples.

Also Read: Living With HIV: Two Moving Stories of Grit and Hope

After overcoming the shock of the diagnosis, people with HIV/AIDS often agonize over relationship issues and battle with the fear of loneliness and rejection. Who will love them with this condition? Can they have a normal, functioning relationship? What about sex?

‘We Love & Fight Like Any Other Couple – Diabetes Doesn’t Affect Love Lives, Then Why HIV?’

(Photo: iStock)

A writer and director, Sarang says HIV doesn’t define him.

I don’t even think about having HIV except when the alarm for taking my daily medication goes off. Initially, those thoughts crept in – my life is a ticking time bomb now, there’s no point of doing anything worthwhile and I will never be able to find someone. But when I started focusing on other things in my life, HIV took a backseat.
Sarang

He says his love life has in fact improved after his diagnosis. “Before I contracted HIV, I had 2-3 relationships which didn’t work well. They all had a 6-month expiry date,” he says.

He has been with his current partner for three years now.

We love, we fight. It’s as good or bad as anyone else’s love life. I lead a healthy life, take my medication and have protected sex, that’s all. 

Sarang puts things into perspective: “It’s just one pill at night, and that’s there with any other disease like diabetes also, but you don’t make a big deal out of it where you’re constantly thinking about how you’re diabetic.”

How Do They Have Sex? What About the Risk of Infection?

(Photo: iStock)

There are almost 21 lakh positive patients in the country and about 7 lakh of them are undiagnosed, according to 2016 statistics from National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).

Yes, you can live a long, healthy and productive life with HIV. But not unless you know you have it. So, first and foremost comes the responsibility to tell the other person about your positive status and the risks.

Human rights and HIV activist Gautam Yadav is 27. He is HIV-positive and is dating an HIV-negative person. He has had two similar relationships in the past.

It’s my responsibility to tell the other person about what is possible and what is not, what should or should not be done, my difficulties and health related challenges. I make them aware about the stigma attached as well.
Gautam Yadav, HIV activist
File photo of Gautam Yadav speaking at an event.
File photo of Gautam Yadav speaking at an event.
(Photo: The Quint

He believes that a serodiscordant couple can have a happy sex life today.

Sex life is not difficult now since there are a lot of things available like PrEP and having protected sex is a must.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for HIV-negative people who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. It’s not 100 percent secure but reduces the risk.

Sarang reiterates that awareness and trust is all it needs.

You just have to take precautions. When you have diabetes, you don’t eat too many sweets. With HIV, you don’t have unprotected sex, but you can still have sex, your life isn’t over.
Sarang

‘It’s Not the Couple But Society That Has a Problem’

(Photo: iStock)

Gautam’s previous partner broke up with him due to external factors.

He told me his mother had issues that he’s with an HIV-positive person. More than the person or their problem, it’s the society. He’s a doctor who thought about what society would say more than his own heart.
Gautam Yadav

Maturity matters a lot, he says. “The person I’m dating right now is 22 and he is more mature than the 30-year-old doctor. He told me he has done his research, is aware of everything and then approached me for a relationship.”

‘The Problems Are the Same – Whether You’re HIV Positive or Negative’

40-year-old Jyoti Dhawale, who’s been married twice before, is a happily single HIV-positive person. Both her ex-husbands were HIV-negative. She says that her past experiences have taught her that any relationship needs understanding and care, more so when it comes to people living with HIV.

She adds that whether you’re positive or not, domestic violence is still a harsh reality. And she’s a living example.

(Photo Courtesy: Jyoti Dhawale)
My word of advice is – If you are HIV-positive and married/in a relationship with HIV-negative partner, it is a good thing. But please be financially strong and independent on your own. Being independent will give you a sense of security and freedom. I have learnt that the hard way, twice.
Jyoti Dhawale, Activist

Matrimonial Sites and Dating Apps to the Rescue?

Organisations that function as matrimonial portals for HIV-positive persons are quite popular among the community. And dating apps are clamouring for attention from the community. But are they really effective when it comes to helping HIV-positive individuals meet partners?

I had an experience where I downloaded one such app but the messages I received on it used to be from abroad or different cities. People also aren’t sure whether to put out their pictures or not, so many fake profiles are there.
Gautam Yadav

It takes a mountain of strength and courage to love a person living with HIV, especially when the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV is so high. But the key to happy relationships lies in finding the right person, whether you’re HIV-positive or not.

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