One of the most common questions I get from those newly diagnosed with HIV (and sometimes other STIs) is: will dating ever be a possibility for me again?
It’s a fair and honest question. The question itself comes from a place of fear and stigma. However, it is still a valid question for those who ask it.
When I was diagnosed with HIV in 2012, I initially promised myself that I would never have sex again and, therefore, would most likely always be single. So, I understand, as well as anyone else in that questioning moment, exactly how it feels.
First, I had to separate sex and dating/relationships. It seems simple enough, but it’s a really important separation. Dating doesn’t have to mean sex. And sex doesn’t necessarily mean dating.
My fear of sex came from an uneducated, but honest, place in my heart—not wanting to harm anyone else by exposing them to HIV. Right after my diagnosis, I incorrectly viewed myself just as stigma have me do—as a viral creature capable of infecting others. The solution for me was to just believe I would never again want to have sex.
The second part of my feelings, soon after diagnosis, was my fear of rejection by others based on my diagnosis and my initial belief that others out there would never want to be in a relationship with someone living with HIV or an STI. I didn’t allow myself to believe that there could be educated individuals that wouldn’t stigmatize me based on my medical condition. Again, I could not have been anymore off-base on my thinking.
•Someone living with HIV, on antiretroviral therapy that achieves an undetectable viral load will not transmit the virus to a sexual partner. This is known as U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable).
•People living with an STI deserve to love and feel love. Everyone deserves that opportunity.
•Wanting to experience sex after a diagnosis is not a taboo topic and deserves to be discussed openly and honestly.
But, I had to put in the work to begin to believe that I deserved to love, feel love, and have sex again. And I had to take the time for that self-care until I really started to believe it for myself.
Why was this time important?
If I wasn’t comfortable with myself and confident, would anyone else even be interested in me for dating, love, or sex? I had to see myself as a prize again – someone that another person would be lucky to meet and get to know.
Once I started to believe that about myself, I was on the right path to slowly get back into the dating game, open to the possibility of being intimate with others.
Next, I had to stop making assumptions about other people. I’ve always hated when people assume things about me. This time it was the opposite. I had to stop thinking everyone would reject me based on my status.
Interestingly enough, I also had to become okay with the reality that at times, I would be rejected by some people based solely on my diagnosis. I promised myself that their rejection wouldn’t mean I’d feel defeated as a person. Their lack of education on sexual health and in turn, their reaction based on fear, lack of knowledge about HIV, or rejection that may have nothing to do with anything beyond the fact that they are not interested would not make me feel inadequate or like used goods.
Rejection in dating will happen to almost everyone. It’s part of the game. Not every rejection I’ve received has had anything to do with my diagnose – even if I make myself believe it does. Rejection sucks but we all have to get over that.
But the opposite of rejection is actually finding the prize or person that I desired. And that is possible.
“Success is nothing without someone you
love to share it with.” – Billy Dee Williams
In order to get back into dating after a positive diagnosis, I had to start viewing myself as someone who has value, as someone who deserves to feel love and love others, as someone who will eventually face rejection, as someone who will be okay after experiencing rejection and not turn into a jaded person. I had to view myself as more than a diagnosis, and as someone who is sexy.
Once I believed almost all of those things, I discovered I was ready to date again, and have sex.
That’s my recipe for successful dating after a positive diagnosis.
Have fun y’all and stay positive.
Josh Robbins is a spokesperson for Dating.com Group, an award-winning sexual health advocate, and author of the site imstilljosh.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category. CLICK HERE for more by Josh!