March 11, 2014
'Undetectable' Is the New 'Negative'?
by David Duran
An HIV-positive freelance writer on being proud about your undetectable viral load.
With the news spreading across the Web of the PARTNER study showing that no HIV-positive individual with an undetectable viral load has transmitted HIV within the first two years of the study, HIV-positive men are tossing out their condoms and celebrating. All online profiles are immediately being changed to say "negative," and the fear of ever having to disclose their status is now a thing of the past. Let that sink in for a moment. Now, how stupid does that sound?
Well, you most likely won't be surprised by the reactions from the haters and skeptics to this monumental news. This news has been long-awaited by those who know their positive status, are taking medication and are taking care of themselves. Is it a license to be reckless? No, but it is a reassurance that treatment as prevention does work.
As someone who happens to be HIV positive, my major fear regarding the disease is passing it on to someone else. My second fear is the rejection I could possibly face with disclosure. Do I disclose before being intimate? If a partner asks me upfront, I am always honest right back, and when the topic is left up to me to bring up, I'd say that I do initiate the conversation the majority of the time. But in the back of my head, I always would reassure myself that my viral load is undetectable and most likely would not be putting anyone at risk. With this landmark finding, is it possible that everyone, especially gay men, will be more inclined to get tested, know their status and be upfront and open about it all the time?
In a perfect world, everyone would get tested, know their status, and take the appropriate steps thereafter. The shame and stigma that surround HIV would diminish, and the world would go on as normal, and HIV would be controlled and the spread of the virus contained. Having an undetectable viral load would be sexy. Knowing your status and getting tested regularly would be, well, regular. Being HIV positive and having an undetectable viral load would be considered the same thing as being HIV negative. Instead, we would frown upon those who don't know their status. Being HIV positive and having an undetectable viral load would be accepted, especially within the gay community.
So will all this happen overnight? Will Grindr or other dating apps see an increase in gay men changing their status to say, "Undetectable as of..."? In this dream scenario, HIV-positive people who are on treatment and taking care of themselves by maintaining an undetectable viral load would feel more empowered to come out and show everyone their A-plus report card each time they have their labs done, wearing those test results with honor and being proud for being healthy.
Unfortunately, unless those of us who are HIV positive become more open about our status and stop hiding behind the stigma, things most likely won't change overnight. We can all already hear the naysayers with the release of the first two years of this second study. And at the same time, we shouldn't automatically ditch the condoms or all our safe-sex practices. As we all know, there is a world of other communicable infections.
What I hope will not happen is for HIV-positive people with undetectable viral loads to hide behind these results and live life as if they were HIV negative. Not being able to transmit the virus is the only thing the two types of individuals have in common. An undetectable viral load is not to be used as a justification for not disclosing your status before engaging in unprotected sex. Instead, these results should build up your confidence so that you can be more open about your HIV status and, if you are HIV positive, keep up on maintaining your undetectable viral load as well as being healthy.
The more we open up and discuss what it means to be HIV positive with an undetectable viral load, the more society, especially those within our own community, will begin to understand, learn and accept. With advancements in antiretroviral therapies, attaining and maintaining an undetectable viral load is not difficult, especially if treatment is started immediately after learning of a positive HIV status.
The more information is put out there for the world to know and learn from, the easier it will become for the ignorance and discrimination surrounding HIV to be eliminated. So all my HIV-positive brothers and sisters who are on treatment and have reached an undetectable viral load, take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. If you are like me and our first major fears align, this news will certainly help lift that extra weight that we had pushing us down. Be proud of having an undetectable viral load!
David Duran is a freelance writer. He writes extensively about travel, business, entertainment, LGBT issues and HIV/AIDS. This article originally was published on The Huffington Post.
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comments 1 - 15 (of 44 total) next
joe redlandsca, Redlands, 2015-04-02 02:58:16
i disclose on social media profiles. in the odd event i'm in a situation where the other party doesn't know, i disclose. i don't want to pass it on and i don't trust anything 100%
Dale Smith, Houston, 2015-03-19 09:56:01
What the author describes is already happening. On gay hookup site Adam4Adam, there are new categories "undetectable" and "on PREP". Men who seek hookups are already jumping to the false conclusion that being HIV+ yet undetectable is carte blanche to engage in bareback sex...probably the sex act that led to contracting HIV in the first place. As some have observed, although HIV gets most of the press, there are other STDS to be avoided -- syphilis, gonorrhea, scabies, etc
Velma, Greensboro, 2015-03-03 23:29:23
You could never be 'negative', because you've tested positive to begin with. This is semantics. And as far as disclosure, everyone does it differently. I let the person know pretty much after getting to know them, before there is any intimacy, so that they may make an informed decision. It's better to be up front, then to be hauled into court. Non disclosure is a criminal act in some states right? Rejection may happen, you have to move on. But it's not cool to make out then disclose. Tacky.
Jeton Ademaj, Harlem, NYC, 2015-02-09 13:09:27
condoms are not regarded as effective protection against either HPV or Hepatitis C, and can protect against Syphilis only if the barrier between partners stays consistent. undetectable does not mean negative...however, it can mean more reliable safety. at least half of new transmissions occur from newly-infected HIV+ that think they're still neg. many of the neoconservative, sex-negative talking points that have grown common among gay men actually worsen the spread of the disease.
Victor W Russell, San Jose CA, 2015-02-05 20:55:22
Oh goodie, now I can run around and get all sorts of STDs, not to mention HPV that has now been linked/Shown to Cause Anal Cancer...(And just for the records, you can not see HPV on a penis unless you put acid on it, let alone the ones that are in the rectum. Don't know about you, but the only way this gets done in the raw is after you've "put a ring on it!" I'm old enough to have thought the idea of condoms silly and I miss NOT using them. Sadly there's to many bugs not to...
Emmett, Cathedral City, 2015-02-05 15:25:12
Well the study sounds well and good there is never 100% chance of not infecting a partner and why would you want to lie to another human being. What if they look in your medicine cabinet or when relaxed and talking slip up about your treatment or some other thing, relationships are not built on lies and why would you want to go with somebody who would not accept you for who you are, HIV and all. Don't get in trouble, you could be arrested or beaten up, murdered if the guy is unstable.
Thomas, USA, 2015-02-02 20:09:21
It would be great if science could educate those that still are too afraid to engage in any kind of relationship with someone that is HIV positive, I was married to my wife for ten years we had unprotected sex for ten years, at some point I was either exposed in the past or by some other vector, however she was terrified that she would get it, (she never did) but divorce was the outcome. If you have sex with a woman or a man without disclosing your hiv status, it is a crime, you can go to jail
Dan, STRATFORD, 2015-01-07 13:38:30
How many guys online that do not get tested and say they are neg.? I know of many of them. I have been with my partner who is neg. and I have been positive for 30 plus years and we bareback. He still remains negative and I still remain undetectable. Most men online BB and lie about their status either unknown or undetectable and have a fear of rejection. If you assume everyone is pos. and still do not protect yourself,that is your choice.Stop blaming the guys that are undetectable!
SWF3003, London, UK, 2014-12-21 17:25:59
Thank you for this article. It is precisely the fear of looming infection that still creates a barrier, especially when people are not fully educated on the topic. A man who loved me and whom I loved decided not to see me anymore because he was too afraid that I would pass the virus on, despite being undetectable for 8 yrs and using protection all the time. It was heartbreaking. But his ignorance and lack of belief in science and us was possibly even worse. So, thanks for the wise words.
michael, Missoula, 2014-12-19 09:18:21
Greatest news for us positive people. I don't have to worry
I am bi pursuing women so I still have more work to do than strictly gay men. I want a copy of my lab results so I can show prospective lovers. Yeah
thomas, USA, 2014-11-28 19:19:28
Good write up, very interesting stuff, Its still a crime in most states to Not disclose prior to any kind of sex, that is not likely to change, people are still going to be afraid, its ironic in a way because before I knew my status I was active all the time and never transmitted to anyone, now that I am undetectable and much safer, disclosure is like throwing ice water on my date.
Jesus Rodriguez, Puerto Rico, 2014-11-25 18:37:25
Hi David, Thank you very much in sharing this uplifting information. Keep up the good work! God Bless!
+undetectable, Uk, 2014-11-02 18:35:21
What a great article. Thank you for sharing this 🙏
Nigel Priestley, Boca Raton, 2014-10-28 14:07:37
Great article. However having been positive since 1985 and seeing the beginning of this devastating disease I could never live with myself if I passed the virus on to another person. When I date I bring my status up if not before the date within the first five minutes. I guess I have lived with this status for so long I don't feel any less lovable or damaged merchandise. I actually thank that god power that has kept me alive and healthy. Undetectable I may be but love of my fellow man is first
brady85, Harrisonburg, VA, 2014-07-19 23:22:28
comments 1 - 15 (of 44 total) next
I do NOT think the author is saying an undetectable status equates to being cured. He's trying to convey that the likelihood of TRANSMISSION, if one is healthy and undetectable, is nearly impossible, if not impossible. He starts off by referencing a recent, scientific study! If you consider the odds of contracting HIV from an undetectable person compared to someone who THINKS they're negative, do you know which odds are higher? I say the latter. Being scared and uneducated feeds stigma.
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