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29 Jan 2003

HIV Positive
Hi. My girlfriend has discovered that she is HIV positive. I've had two tests already in one year and both came out negative. Should I continue having sex with her using a condom?
Answer 420 views

01 Jan 0001

Let me begin by saying that there's no way for a sexually active person to be 100 percent "sure" that s/he is safe from HIV. But, there are many ways to make one's risk low, or even negligible, even for an HIV-negative person in a relationship with someone who is HIV-positive.

Several studies have been done on relationships similar to yours, where one partner is HIV-positive and the other negative (HIV-discordant couples). A study published in 1994 in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at 256 heterosexual HIV-discordant couples. Of the 124 couples that consistently used condoms, none of the HIV-negative partners were infected. Among the 121 couples that did not consistently use condoms, 12 (about 10 percent) of the HIV-negative partners became infected. Additional studies found similar results.

Consistent and correct condom usage is the key to lowering the risk of HIV transmission in HIV-discordant couples, whatever their sexuality. Condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV, but sometimes fail. Those failures are most often due to incorrect usage or user error. To reduce condom failure:

Use water-based lubes, never oil-based ones such as petroleum jelly, cooking oil or shortening, or hand-lotion — they can weaken the latex.
Keep condoms away from heat or direct sunlight.
Check the expiration dates printed on the package. Condoms that are too old or expired, or have packaging that appears to be weathered or deflated, need to be thrown away.
Carefully open the condom with your fingers, trying not to tear it with your fingernails (or teeth).
The studies mentioned above dealt with condom usage for vaginal and anal intercourse, not oral sex.

Relationships pose challenges, and being in one with an HIV-positive partner poses unique issues beyond safer sex that you might not have had to think about in your previous relationships. It may be interesting to take a look at The Couples Project, an initiative from the Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where you'll find articles, FAQs, and a question and answer forum for HIV-discordant couples.

Good Luck
Dr Elna McIntosh

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical examination, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.
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