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I found HIV meds in my partner’s house. How do I talk to him about HIV?
I’ve been dating a young man for three months. We’ve had sex with a condom, and we perform oral sex on each other. Recently, I found prescriptions for drugs relating to HIV (Epivir, Norvir, Fortovase). My last HIV test a few months ago came back negative...but should I be concerned about contracting AIDS from my partner, and how do I approach him with this? Also, what are the necessary steps to find out whether I have been exposed?
Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on August 12, 2011
You touched on some extremely important points. First, you’re wise to ask about HIV risk factors. It’s well-known that having sex with someone who’s infected with any active contagious disease puts you at risk for contracting the disease. But remember: while HIV causes AIDS, not everyone who is HIV-positive has AIDS. A person can have HIV for many years and not develop any signs of the disease.
That said, anyone can get HIV through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex. So I’m glad to hear that you’re using condoms, but I also encourage you to practice safer sex by using a condom or a dental dam every time you have oral sex.
Have you been exposed to HIV? For your peace of mind, I encourage you to get tested again for HIV. It’s the only way to know your status for sure. You mentioned that you got tested a few months ago...given your circumstances, however, I encourage you to get tested again now.
How often should I get tested if my partner is HIV-positive? There isn’t one right answer about how often to test when you’re in an ongoing relationship with an HIV-positive partner. Talk to your doctor about what makes the most sense for you. Typically, after a known exposure – like the situation your described with oral sex – testing is usually recommended at three weeks and again at three months.
You could, therefore wait three months from the episode of oral sex and get antibody testing at that time. You could also do an HIV DNA test now, which will detect HIV earlier than an antibody test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people infected with HIV will develop detectable antibodies within 25 days of exposure and 97% of people will have HIV antibodies by three months after exposure.
It sounds like talking about STDs is difficult for you and your partner. We all know that honesty and integrity are key to strong, long-lasting relationships. But from what you describe, it seems your partner hasn’t been transparent with you...so it may be up to you to bring these issues out into the open. If it feels overwhelming to talk to your partner about HIV, try role-playing the conversation with a trusted friend, first, to help you work through trust issues and other emotional concerns that might arise. Or, you can simply practice saying the words out loud in front of a mirror.
When you talk to your partner, choose a neutral setting where you won’t get interrupted. Speak with confidence and remain calm...remember, you have the right and the responsibility to know your partner’s status, in order to take care of your own health. And expect a positive, open response...people generally respond as you expect them to.
For more detailed information about HIV risk factors and HIV testing, check out our Expert Guide to HIV. Thank you for your excellent questions, and I wish you and your partner the best of health.
Dr. Perlman is a Colorado-based infectious disease specialist (including HIV and other STDs) in private practice at Greater Denver Infectious Diseases. Additionally, he is Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Perlman was educated at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.