Help! How do I go about dating with HIV?

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Well, would you look at the time: it’s shorts season! You’ve been feeling yourself lately, 💅 good weather is on the way, ☀️ and you’re wondering… How does this all work with HIV? Is a normal dating life possible?

Short answer: 10000% yes! ✅ We believe HIV should never get in the way of living your life to the fullest—and that includes everything from a little bit of fun to the full-blown quest for love. Sure, dating can be challenging for anyone, and it can be a little more complicated if you’re living with HIV. But with the right mindset, your dating life can be just as rewarding and fulfilling as anyone else’s!

We’ve got some tips to help you along the way, so read on to learn about dating with HIV!

Nerds are hot

We think it’s super important that you don’t go into a relationship without the know-how. Much of the important information about dating with HIV might already be in your noggin from the research you’ve done in the past, but it won’t hurt to brush up on:

  • The risk of HIV transmission
  • How best to protect yourself and others by being undetectable
  • STI prevention

Having a detailed understanding of the above won’t just be helpful with making informed decisions about your health. It’ll also come in handy when it comes to your relationships, and in case your date has questions or concerns. Read up on U=U, and remember that if you are undetectable, it’s impossible for you to transmit or pass HIV during sex.

Knowing you are being safe will not just make you feel more comfortable, it’ll also help with your confidence. And, you can always reach out to your doctor or social worker, so that they can help you with all things related to dating with HIV.

Know what you deserve

This goes for anyone reading this blog: we tend to date people we think we deserve.

Depending on how you value yourself, that statement might be encouraging, or it might hurt a bit to hear. Truth is, if we don’t spend time learning how to value ourselves, we might end up with someone who doesn’t value us in return.

Heavy, huh? So, here’s what you can do about it:

  • Spend time caring for yourself 🫶 and your self-esteem: This can take many different forms, like finding a hobby that’s just for you, or practicing self-care days. You could even reach out to a therapist to really pop the hood and see what’s going on under there. A spa day might not be enough for everyone, you know?
  • Recognize self-stigma 💕: Regardless of whether you’re living with HIV, you can identify self-stigma and know how to deal with it. For people living with HIV, stigma makes your days feel harder, impacting all aspects of health. Stopping the stigma with positive affirmations, giving others the correct information about HIV, and encouraging positive messages related to HIV (such as U=U) can all help to fight stigma.
  • Find the right perspective 🤔: It can be easy to settle for someone who isn’t quite right for us because staying put is often more comfortable than letting go. But think about it: There are 7.8 billion people on this planet. The right person is bound to be out there, within reach! You deserve to be with someone that loves you for you, and that’s one of the most important things to realize when dating with HIV.

Kiss and Tell or Tell and Kiss?

All right, now let’s talk about the age-old question: when to disclose your status.

There are two main approaches:

  • Tell and Kiss: You may even decide to do this before the first date, to really get it out in the open before it can cause any tension. Some people even put it on their dating app profiles! While this might keep any (unfortunate) rejection to a minimum, another person will know that you are living with HIV. Depending on where you are or who you live around, putting this information out there early-on might make you feel uncomfortable, which is completely valid.
  • Kiss and Tell: Waiting until after a few dates, but before having sex, may make you feel more comfortable with the person and give you more privacy beforehand. It also gives you some time to feel the person out and see if you think they’ll handle your status respectfully and confidentially. The scary part is the potential “Why didn’t you tell me before?” reaction, which can also lead to some heartbreak.

There’s no perfect way or time to tell someone you are living with HIV. The important factor is who you tell. Your potential partner might accept your status, no matter what. 💯 On the flip-side, they might not take this information well, no matter when you tell them.

We totally get if this is a source of anxiety for you, and while most approaches are valid, we do feel it’s often best to be upfront and honest. It’s a personal choice, and it’s 100% your choice, but it can be better to be completely transparent before engaging in any sexual activity. That’s because:

  • You become closer by revealing something personal about yourself.
  • You get “the talk” out of the way, meaning you won’t have to live with any stress of keeping your HIV status a secret.
  • Disclosing your status can be empowering, because you are, simply, just being you!

We’ve got a whole bunch of advice on how best to disclose your status, and there are even some HIV disclosure laws to keep in mind, depending on where you live. First off, we recommend having the conversation when you are both sober. If you’re worried about a big or violent reaction (which is absolutely not okay), bring someone with you whom you trust, or have the conversation in a space with others nearby—like a public park. Dating is about finding the right person for you. Hitting some negative speed bumps along the way is totally normal.

By now, you’ve got this dating with HIV thing down!

Armed with knowledge and a plan, you’re ready to tackle anything. Make sure to take care of yourself and prioritize self-care. ✨ Take your medication as prescribed to remain undetectable. Surround yourself with those you trust. Even consider meeting with a mental health professional; they can provide you with dedicated support when you need it the most.

At the end of the day, take the time to find that ~special someone~ who’s right for you. A supportive partner can make all the difference; it might mean having another person on your team, helping you manage living with HIV, and dating with HIV! Try a support group or dating site for people living with HIV—a place where you can be confident knowing you’re accepted as you are. You deserve to find the kind of love that’ll make you feel like your best self. 💖

Also, try reaching out to people that have their own dating with HIV experiences, through the Positive Peers app! Within the Positive Peers app, there’s a whole community of people who understand what you’re going through.

On the way, keep your eyes peeled for an available partner or two! 😉