Words by Ruaidhri O'Baoill | @RuaidhriOB 

When I was diagnosed as HIV-positive I turned to sex as a way to cope with how I was feeling about myself.

I lost all confidence and self-condemned myself to the ‘unwanted’ pile. I relied on the quick fix that sex brought to make myself feel better again. 

It was the connection, contact and ultimately acceptance, along with being desired, that I craved which sex provided me with – no matter the circumstance.  I didn’t set out to intentionally put myself at risk again after being diagnosed, but I did.

Even though I was upfront and open about my status to every guy I met, it was primarily only other HIV-positive guys who I hooked up with and vice versa.

I was consistently getting rejected on Grindr by negative guys because of my newfound status so I had to filter my search. I found solace and sex among those who were undetectable. 

What I found was that the majority preferred bareback sex, and that if I was in desperate need to boost my confidence through sex then bareback it was. I probably had more sex in those initial 12 months than any other period of my life.

I got myself involved in the scene and explored a lot, however the consistent thread throughout was bareback sex. I knew the risks but I couldn’t help myself. 

Looking back, I had become utterly lost and shut down to the point that I had completely dissociated myself from my feelings and emotions. This enabled me to have as much meaningless sex as I had. It was a weird conundrum I had found myself in. On one hand I was fucking guys in order to feel better, but on the other hand, when I was fucking these guys, I actually felt nothing. 

The problem with feeling nothing was I didn’t seem to care about any sexual risk. I had developed this sort of ‘fuck it’ attitude. I was now HIV-positive so what else could be worse. 

I started to believe in what I was hearing from other guys on apps and the subsequent stigma I encountered. I was diseased. I was disgusting. The idea that bareback sex was dirty and taboo only reinforced how I felt about myself. A time when I should have protected myself more than ever but instead put myself through continuous sexual risk.

After nearly a year behaving like this it got far too much and I had a bit of breakdown. I just gave up.

I decided I needed to work out how I could sexually look after myself. Throughout all of this, I didn’t because I just didn’t see the point. So, I spoke to a counsellor who would make me remember the point. 

I started at the beginning and began to understand my new status and embrace what being undetectable meant. I placed more emphasis on what undetectable meant for my health rather than what it meant sexually. 

Having the confidence of knowing that as a result of my status I cannot pass HIV on is an incredible relief. I don’t have sex as much by choice. This way allows me to appreciate it more. It also allows me to focus on other parts of my life that had fallen by the wayside when the constant sex had become an obsession. 

I also got myself back to the gym as I thought that putting work into my body would help me look after it more. It did and does still. All of this has been a learning curve for me and something which is still ongoing but I am heading in the right direction.