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 34 total) next
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
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.
Mike, Washington, DC, 2014-06-26 09:24:30
When will poz men start looking at other poz men for dating purposes? Must the body be perfect, the age decades below the age of the seeker, a range of unattainable demands, when being poz is at least a connection? When poz rejects poz, because of being poz, while wanting nonpoz, I'm lost in a NYC demand of Hollywood expectations.
bellestarrr, orlando, 2014-06-25 06:29:43
I have read on this very website that undetectable still allows a 2% chance of transmission of the virus and there is more of it in semen than the blood..gay men are always looking for the easy out..the maybe im ok now...if ur positive u still hve the virus hiding in numerous resevoirs and the brain..this article creates a false sense of security..dont buy it.
Survived20, Seattle, WA, 2014-06-03 19:05:20
To the public at large who generally do not have the knowledge of HIV to the degree of those who are savvy to the cause, I can only imagine the fear they hold and how they wouldn't want sexual relations with a HIV+ person. What's scarier is we KNOW about HIV. We don't about diseases on our evolutionary horizon. Protect yourself and care for yourself. Care for humankind as well being by passing along the message of how to remain free of disease.
Kenneth, Austin Tx, 2014-06-01 23:56:23
I'm with Thomas and Anthony on this one. (Your membership is now under review.)
anonymous, New Orleans, LA, 2014-05-23 13:01:43
Scary thought process. What about herpes, chlamydia, HPV, gonorrhea (drug resistant now), syphillis..new mutated strains of HIV. Come on people, unless you are in a monogamous relationship, with a healthy partner, you are going to contract some of these diseases and pass them on to other human beings. You can't toss the condoms...if you a promiscuous, you are dangerous without them,
Mary, Frankiln, NC, 2014-05-21 12:35:09
This is exactly how I feel.. I have kept up research, and been involved in clinical trials myself.. I have been undectable for several years.. Diagnosed in 05. I take 1 pill a day.. Never had any side effects.. I believe I am the New face of the cure.. Having my spiritual self in line also has helped.. Love to share testimony from a Strait, 1 partner for life, female.. Mary
RexHarley, Austin, TX, 2014-05-16 12:33:28
How do the new "ultra-sensitive" tests factor into being considered undetectable? I used to be undetectable all the time, but my doctor gives me ever more sensitive tests to detect smaller and smaller viral loads.
Bill, Lansing, MI, 2014-05-12 21:33:06
Oh please, that's BS. They're rejecting you because you have antibodies. That old "they're rejecting the virus, not me" is pablum they feed people to cover up how we feel and what those feelings make you think.
Undetectable may still be positive, but it doesn't appear risky. Having to still disclose in light of that status begs the question of what these laws are really about. We won't go anywhere until we can call these rules out as segregation pretending to be public health.
NP, Boston, 2014-04-29 18:07:13
Undetectable or not, it's still HIV positive. Studies still show traces of HIV in "undetectable" semen so always be safe. Eighteen years positive and I learned long ago to always disclose my status upfront. Dates are few and far between but it's the virus that's being rejected, not me. The guys who do respond to ads I post greatly appreciate the honesty and it gets the sex history conversation going as I don't need someone hiding something from me.
Danny, New York, 2014-04-22 12:07:08
comments 1 - 15 (of 34 total) next
Viral loads have bounces, easily going from undetectable to 400-800 and back. As far as I can tell from the studies, it makes not too much difference on transmissibility, at those low levels.
As far as convincing HIV negative guys on Grindr, Match and OKCupid - The undetectable label is something like someone saying to the Nazis "Hey, wait, there has been a mistake here. I'm only 1/4 Jewish and we converted to Lutheranism 2 decades ago" The negative is either comfortable or not. Use condoms
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