The man of my dreams just asked me to be his bride. He is HIV negative and knew that I—the local loudmouthed activist —was positive even before he met me three years ago. His refusal to be intimidated by HIV in bed is one reason I’ve become so attached to him. It also may be one reason that our sex life has been not only risqué but even a little risky.  

In the 12 years that I’ve practiced safe sex, I’ve played bedroom scenes from me bursting into tears to my partner bursting into tears, and everything in-between. So I couldn’t believe my HIV didn’t bother my new honey. I questioned him closely: “Don’t condoms bother you?” He smirked and said, “Well, yes. That’s why I like it when you tie me up and use that vibrator thing on my butt.”

In our early days, we’d sometimes realize we had only three hours to get out of bed, and we’d laugh because that just wasn’t enough time to have sex. Luckily, we have twin sex drives. This is important. I’ve been in too many relationships where one of us wanted sex more than the other. That’s when I learned how to have sex and read at the same time—if you’re sneaky.

My honey and I have had marathon sessions featuring cross-dressing, sex toys, food, lubricant, porno, bondage and role play. We’ve had sex that took less than 10 minutes (when we were exhausted from renovating our home and living in it at the same time). For about six months we didn’t have sex at all, because I had chronic headaches, rectal pain and thrush, and I just didn’t have the energy or desire. He had just taken a second job and was wiped out, too, so it made more sense to sleep entwined, with peepees at rest.

Over time our safe-sex life evolved. For the first year I wouldn’t do anything that whiffed of putting my honey at risk. He was more adventuresome, but I couldn’t live with the possibility of my vaginal secretion or blood getting into his body. We found that masturbating each other worked nicely. We used protection for any kind of penetration, but my vagina became very sensitive to condoms (really to Nonoxynol-9, as it turns out). The best was when I would perform oral sex on him. That made me remember sex before HIV—no muss, no fuss, no plastic, no worry. Just like old times.

Eventually we began to take a few more risks. He would give me no-barrier head with his lips closed. He used his bare hand—after examining for cuts—to stimulate my clitoris. And often, right as he was about to come, I would put him inside me without latex and then remove his penis right after he ejaculated.

We made these choices because we believed they were low risk. It would have been an anomaly if he had become infected this way, and it was affirming to both of us—and very, very nice—to feel his skin on mine.

I don’t usually share the information that we took these chances, for fear of being condemned. I’m breaking the silence now because I know many other mixed-status couples push the safe-sex boundaries—or use no precautions at all—and don’t talk about it for fear of judgment (not to mention that in some places they could be arrested). But it seems better to talk about it, doesn’t it?

One time my honey—who hadn’t been HIV-tested since we met—needed a test to get life insurance. He called me right after they’d taken the swab. I had a panic attack and asked him to cancel the test. It wasn’t really my decision to make, but he understood. I truly believe the results would have been negative, but I would have just disintegrated if he’d tested positive. This is irrational, and it goes against everything we say about the importance of getting tested. But I know my own life changed completely when I was diagnosed—and right then I needed to live with the notion that he was negative. 

OK, I will pony up here: I know he took sexual risks before he met me. But if he’d tested positive, I would have felt tremendous guilt that I might have brought harm to this magnificent man. I also knew that his friends would assume I’d infected him. What does that say about me? All I know is I couldn’t live with the feeling that I’d betrayed him.

So we reverted back to safety. I give him head and we do a lot of rubbing and fondling, but when he puts his penis in me, it is sheathed. (Condoms without N-9 are less irritating.) We haven’t brought out the toys in a while, and we’re both dealing with early sexual wounds in therapy, so sex has been less hot and heavy but more loving and comforting.

Through it all, the most arousing, phenomenal ingredient in our sex life is this: He sees me as a sexy, talented, smart, funny, beautiful woman—not as Someone Living With HIV. That adds to how much I love him—and to why I said yes when he proposed. We’ve shared many inner caverns of our selves and put our love under some heavy burdens (concrete, spackle dust and two-by-fours of renovation; enormous debt; illness). At the end of each day I watch him undress, and it’s Christmas morning no matter the season—or what we do between the sheets.