Relationships where one person is HIV-positive and the other isn't are commonly referred to as serodiscordant relationships. If you're in a serodiscordant relationship, you want to enjoy the same intimacy and sexuality of couples not coping with HIV, but it's natural for you to have concerns about your partner's health - and about your risk of HIV infection. Here are a few things you should know.

• Communicate. When you're dating someone with HIV, speak openly and honestly about your partner's HIV status, your concerns, and what you want or expect from the relationship. Keeping your feelings hidden from your partner will undermine the relationship. Your partner may also have trouble opening up, so be sure to encourage healthy communication from the start.

• Learn about HIV. There are many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. If you're dating someone with HIV, find out as much as you can about it so you can understand what your partner is going through - symptoms,  side effects from medication, viral load, natural and alternative treatments, and more. You can also learn how your partner's illness will impact you, not just physically, but emotionally. Surf the Internet for info, pick up brochures at clinics or community health offices, or borrow books.

• Always practice safe sex. There's no guarantee that you'll be completely protected from HIV (or any other sexually transmitted disease) when engaging in sex with your partner. You can contract HIV through blood, semen or vaginal secretions. There are negligible amounts of HIV in saliva, and it's very unlikely that you will be infected from kissing or open-mouth kissing. However, if you or your partner have gum problems, the risk of HIV infection is greater.

You should practice safe sex every time when you're dating someone with HIV, whether you are having vaginal, oral or anal sex. Always use a latex condom. Check the expiration date on condom packages every time. Keep condoms away from sunlight or heat, and be careful not to rip them when opening them. Also, use only water-based (not oil-based) lubes.

• Don't be reckless with your own health. A study published in the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care revealed that a modest amount of HIV serodiscordant couples do not practice safe sex, mainly because of sensation seeking. You and your partner shouldn't pressure each other to engage in sex without protection, even if either of you believes it will make sex more pleasurable, create more intimacy, or add spontaneity to your relationship.

• Seek PEP treatment immediately if you're exposed. Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is treatment with antiretroviral medications as soon as possible after you're exposed to HIV so that you do not become infected with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), studies show that when taken within 48 to 72 hours after exposure to HIV and for a course of 28 days, PEP reduces the likelihood of transmission.

• Get caregiver information. People living with HIV take antiretroviral drugs, which cause several side effects including anemia, diarrhea, digestive problems, fatigue, nerve damage, and skin problems. Sometimes, the role of caregiving may fall to you, and it can cause stress, depression, or resentment.

Studies suggest that actively coping with your partner's problems (instead of blaming) or enlisting the help of others can reduce the stress of caregiving when you're dating someone with HIV. Also, you'll be more effective at helping your partner cope with HIV if you know more about the symptoms and the side effects of treatment.

Some people with HIV believe their dating days are over, but with extra precautions and open, honest communication, it is possible for serodiscordant relationships to flourish.

Study Reference

Journal Name: Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS care, Vol. 16, Issue 6, pp. 3-11

Study Date: November-December 2005,

Study Name: Sensation Seeking and HIV Serodiscordant Couples


Authors: Heidi Israel PhD, RN, LCSW, James Romeis PhD and Teresa Spitz RN