Welcome to "Ask MISTER CARL." I'm Carl Sandler, the founder of the gay dating app MISTER and Daddyhunt.com and a relationship expert on The Morning Jolt on OutQ on Sirius XM Radio. In this new blog series I offer strategies and advice for anyone navigating the marvelous, messy and often fucked-up dilemmas we face in our quests for intimacy, both online and off.
Dear MISTER CARL,
I am an HIV-positive male who, thanks to medication, has had an undetectable viral load for more than a year. I recently read about a guy from Iowa who went to jail for not disclosing his status to his sex partner. Do I have to tell every guy I sleep with that I'm poz? What if it's just oral? I'm freaked out!
--Pozitively Terrified, 26, New York City
I don't blame you for being freaked out. HIV is enough of a burden without having to decipher poorly written laws that criminalize HIV-positive individuals for merely wanting to be sexual beings. HIV disclosure laws vary from state to state, with Iowa having arguably the strictest. To check the law in your state, visit www.hivlawandpolicy.org.
That being said, the chances of actually being taken to court over failing to disclose your positive status are pretty slim. (An estimated 250 cases have been tried since 1990.) And let's face it: You're going to have sex again, no matter what lawmakers say. You deserve to have pleasure -- guilt-free. But before you can truly enjoy basking in the hot and sweaty afterglow, you're going to have to do an honest examination of your personal ethics as an HIV-positive individual.
It's essential for you to develop a disclosure strategy that works with your values, the kind of sex and dating life you want to have and your own comfort level. You do this as much for yourself as for your partner(s). If you're brave enough to reveal your status to your partner from the get-go, or at least before sexy time begins, I applaud you. But if immediate disclosure isn't right for you, that's OK, too. Many HIV-positive guys I know develop different disclosure strategies for sex and for dating.
I can't tell you what the right strategy is for you. I can only tell you to be ready for lots of judgment from others for any decision that is anything short of full disclosure. You won't get that message from me, but having an undetectable viral load at the time of your last test is not the same as being HIV-negative. A widely reported study has suggested that HIV-positive men who have undetectable viral loads are "non-infectious" in many circumstances, but the risk, even if it's reduced greatly, is still there. And even a smaller risk doesn't relieve you of your ethical responsibility to not put an unwitting partner at risk, even one who might not be smart enough or brave enough to ask, or who simply assumes you're HIV-negative. With or without disclosure, you carry the burden of making sure that you don't engage in unsafe sexual practices and that HIV stops with you, to paraphrase a popular awareness campaign. Is it unfair and one-sided? Absolutely.
There are many gay people who will disagree with me. They'll say that both parties are responsible for ensuring that neither is put in danger; however, that doesn't take into consideration the fact that we are rarely equals in the bedroom. Sex is never just about sex. Experience, power, knowledge, intelligence, drugs, alcohol, love and many other issues come into play in the bedroom, which means partners are rarely, if ever, on equal playing fields. This is especially true when one partner knows and understands the tremendous emotional and physical burden of HIV in ways that a partner who is not HIV-positive just doesn't get if he is negative.
It's time for you to do some real soul searching, PT, to determine the type of life you want to lead, the impact you want to have on others and ultimately the legacy you want to leave behind. Remember, it's not just HIV-positive men who could benefit from a thoughtful evaluation of sexual ethics, disclosure and responsibility.
Next time: "Am I being selfish for wanting my boyfriend to take care of my needs over his family's?"
Have a question for me? Send it to AskMrCarl@misterapp.com.