Words by Ruaidhri O'Baoill

I was asked to talk about my first time having sex after I was diagnosed and what that was like for me. I thought about it and what got me the most was that I couldn’t really remember. 

I know who it was with, when it happened and how soon after I was diagnosed, but any feelings or emotions escape me. I know why. I wasn’t sober. I don’t think I was sober for any sex I had that following year. In hindsight, that first time should have been an indicator of what was to come.

It was the day after I was diagnosed that I had sex as an HIV-positive man. Looking back, it was too soon and I regret not giving myself a chance to breathe. I met up with a friend who I had known for a while and he was also HIV-positive. It felt right at that time to spend it with someone I trusted, as I knew that with all of the insecurities or worries I had, I could talk about it openly. 

We had a chat about how I was coping with everything, but after a while one thing led to another and we were having sex. It wasn’t sober (by choice I may add). Like anyone who knows about having this kind of sex, it allows you to drop your guard and it can increase confidence which at that time was something I desperately needed. 

It was masking what should have been a real and true experience. It took away my chance to be in tune with how I was feeling and what sex now meant for me as an HIV-positive gay man. These emotions are incredibly useful in the long run as they encourage you to face you fears and confront insecurities such as feeling less worthy, which over a longer period of time you can use to make yourself a stronger person.

This constant deviation from sober sex continued for a couple of weeks, which turned into a couple of months, which turned into a year. The more it happened the more this became the norm, which then ultimately warped my understanding of sex, compassion, lovers and intimacy. So much so that nearly two years later I’m still struggling with how I incorporate these now in my sober life. 

Back then there was this strong desire to feel wanted. It was this desire that exploited my insecurities about my new status, which resulted in looking for ways to appease it. I went on the apps. The hook-ups became more frequent and I was a regular attendee at parties. I became increasingly lost in my life and although I was exhausted with this lifestyle, it was only thing that made me feel I was wanted. 

It took me nearly two years to realise how far down the wrong path I was, and that living off the need for desire from someone else was damaging. When I did finally did it sober, I took it as an opportunity to overcome my fears of feeling vulnerable. To be honest it wasn’t great sex but that didn’t matter. I was starting to become comfortable with my status in the bedroom. Being undetectable means I know I can’t pass it on, which removes the huge amount of fear I had. For me HIV is only skin deep, whereas being sexually confident is about who you are as a person. HIV plays no role in defining you.

Sex is an essential part of life. Being HIV-positive, you may now feel that this has impacted your sex life. It doesn’t. You are entitled to have great sex just like everyone else. Making peace with your status is a good way to start.