Tuesday, 17 August 2010

On AIDS/HIV and disclosure

There has recently been a kafuffle in Germany (I think) where a HIV+ woman is facing criminal charges for knowingly sleeping with men without protection.

Now, the reaction has been something along the lines of “ZOMG throw the book at her! No, throw the whole damn library at her!” and I can understand that, I had the same reaction myself

Let us not forget that AIDS is a terminal, chronic disease. Despite the increasing ignorance around the subject, no it cannot be cured. Yes it will be there fore life and yes, it has a significant chance of killing or being a contributing cause to the death of the sufferer. Yes, with modern medication someone with HIV/AIDS can manage it for a considerable length of time and live much longer lives than was previously expected – but it is still not something that can be remotely underestimated or something that can be handled with too much caution.

So, in that light, yes. She (and, indeed, any other HIV+ person who knowingly has sex with someone without protection) has done something reprehensible in the extreme and severely damaged and jeopardised other people’s lives. In these circumstances, she should most certainly have used protection. And, some are arguing, she should have disclosed her HIV+ status.

And now that’s why the merry train of my thoughts hits a great big, thick concrete wall. Because it’s all well and good saying that a HIV+ person should disclose their status, but that’s rather blinkered from the realities of society.

Let’s be frank, despite desperate attempts at education, people with HIV/AIDS are often treated like modern day lepers*. We still have an inordinate amount of people who live in terror of HIV/AIDS and believe silly things like it can be caught off a toilet seat or by sharing cooking utensils etc etc etc. Very few people accept that HIV/AIDS is spread by bodily fluids and that it has a very short lifespan outside the human body.

Someone who publicly admits their HIV/AIDS status is often going to take shit for it. They may be shunned. They may be ostracised. Many friends may drop them. Family may be more hesitant. And sex partners are certainly going to be leery. And I’ll put my hands up on this one, it’s not fair and it’s not right but I know a part of me is going to flinch if I learn a lover is HIV+

Demanding disclosure ignores the shit that HIV+ people take. In our society with the current stigma that exists, I can’t 100% get behind the idea that a HIV+ person has to disclose under any situation, not until that stigma is reduced.

Which brings to the alternative – protection should be used. ye gods it should be used. And a HIV+ person who KNOWS they are HIV+ should most certainly be using protection (and that doesn’t just mean condoms. You can catch HIV+ from oral sex – especially if you swallow). Knowing your status and not using protection? Well, yeah I’m reaching for that library again. I can’t excuse what the original person or any other person in this situation does here. I can make an argument about disclosure, but not using protection is much weaker.

But it brings in a related point. A lot of people, shockingly but unsurprisingly, don’t insist on condoms despite not knowing their partner’s status (and again. their word isn’t enough. And no, that doesn’t make them a liar – a sizeable portion of the people out there living with STDS do not know they have them). This, again, can be awkward for a HIV+ person insisting on protection (though much much less so that disclosure) because it isn’t demanded every time. Worse, some sexual partners pressure, push and bully so they don’t have to use condoms – I know, I’ve been there. I even had one very ex-ex who put a condom on, waited until I wasn’t looking and took the damn thing off. Sometimes someone will, for whatever reasons, comply with what their lover wishes even if it’s against their better instincts (and I‘ve been there as well). It’s not always simple.

I think we need to change our assumptions. We need to approach our sexual partners with the assumption they DO have an STD unless we‘re extremely sure they do not (again, by testing – not because they said so.) If they cannot prove to you they are disease free, then assume they are not. That doesn’t mean run to the hills (nor does it mean run to the hills if you find they AREN’T disease free) it means take precautions. It also means that we should not tolerate those who resist wearing protection

If we’re willing, prepared and just plain SENSIBLE enough to approach our sex lives with this degree of intelligent caution then whether someone is HIV+ or not or whether they have disclosed or not becomes a moot point – and then maybe we can avoid the idea of criminal charges for GBH or manslaughter or murder for HIV+ people who had sex with someone else. But, with all this, I think we also have to see the shades of grey that are all over this, before we reach to our libraries and start throwing those books.

*Actually, treating lepers like lepers is several kinds of wrong. Not only does no-one deserve such condemnation and ostracism, but leprosy is hardly the most contagious of diseases, in fact, I think it’s primarily hereditary than communicable, but don’t quote me on that.