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When is it safe for us to stop using a condom?

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This is the first of a series of columns provided by the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat. Please post your questions to Communications Coordinator, NAS, Ministry of Health and the Environment, Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines or via email to hivaidsunit@vincysurf.com.

• Q: Is there a cure for HIV?

• A: At this time, there is no cure for HIV but there are drugs, called anti-retroviral therapy, which can keep an HIV positive person healthy for a very long time. Some people who were born with HIV are now in their 20s and are healthy even though they have the virus.

• Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for several months. When is it safe for us to stop using a condom?{{more}}

• A: First, are you both committed to being faithful to each other? If there are any doubts, it is very important to continue using a condom.

If you are committed to each other, the first thing to do is for both of you to get tested for HIV. It takes a few months for the antibodies, which indicate a positive result, to be identified by the test. This means that even if the test shows you are both negative, you have to continue using condoms for three months during the “window period” and be tested again to be absolutely sure.

Then you both have to be faithful to each other or you risk bringing HIV infection to the relationship.

• Q: Do I have to talk to a counselor before I get tested? If so, what kinds of questions will they ask me?

• A: It is important to talk to a trained HIV counselor before you get tested. They will not take your name; you will be assigned a code number.

They will ask you some confidential questions about your sexual history so they will know how to prepare you for your test results. The counselor will help you determine how to minimize your risk if you are negative and tell you how to get the help you’ll need if you are positive. Remember MOST people who are tested are negative.

• Q: Does an HIV test hurt?

• A: A needle is used to draw about a teaspoon of blood from your arm. While it might be a little uncomfortable (like an ant’s bite), it can keep you from worrying and that will feel good.

• Q: Is oral sex safe?

• A: NO. You can get infected with HIV through oral sex, especially if you have sores in your mouth or bleeding gums.

It is not as risky as vaginal or anal sex but it is not worth taking the chance. A condom should be used when having oral sex with a man. When having oral sex with a woman a male condom can also be used for protection. Unroll it, cut it carefully with scissors down the length of the condom. Then spread it open and place it across the vagina before having oral sex. In both cases, unlubricated or flavoured condoms taste better.

Remember, to protect yourself you want to avoid the exchange of bodily fluids: blood, semen (cum) and vaginal secretions.

• Q: Can two people who are both HIV positive have sex with each other?

• A: Yes. Couples who are HIV positive can have sex but they MUST use condoms EVERY time. If condoms are not used, they can re-infect each other and the virus can spread more rapidly in their bodies.

• Q: I am living in an extended family and I am living with HIV and feeling alienated because no one wants to use kitchen utensils I have used. How can I deal with the situation?

• A: HIV can not be transmitted via kitchen utensils because the virus is ONLY transmitted through the exchange of blood, sexual intercourse (vaginal, oral and anal) and from an HIV positive mother to her child. It may be difficult to convince your family because there are so many rumours about HIV transmission. I hope this column helps to present the facts. Best wishes to you.

• Q: I am in love with a man who is HIV positive. We have talked about it and I want to marry him. Am I crazy?

• A: You are not crazy. People who live with HIV have the right to live a normal life and that includes love and marriage.

I know a couple who got married after the woman told her fiancé she was HIV positive. They have been happily married for the last seven years and he is HIV free. They practice safe sex.

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