The HIV+ relationship status dynamic (part I).

There are 6.4 million HIV+ South Africans. 1 in 5 people living with HIV in the world are in South Africa. Find out what this means for relationships in our country.

The HIV+ relationship status dynamic

HIV+ relationships

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the sorry state of HIV in South Africa when he opened the Seventh SA AIDS Conference on 9 June: “Our country has more than 6.4 million people living with HIV… More than 1 in 5 people with HIV in the world live in our country… We have about 450,000 new HIV infections […] each year.”

With so many people suffering from HIV what does this mean for relationships in our country? Stats SA tells us in their report on marriages and divorces that in 2013 there were over 170 000 civil marriages, civil unions and customary unions registered. Marriages are decreasing and civil unions are increasing, but regardless, it’s still a high number of committed relationships that are being formalised each year.

A large proportion of the 6.4 million HIV+ people in South Africa are conceivably in relationships. And in all likelihood, a large proportion of these relationships are conceivable with HIV- people. Dr Susan Allen identified “serodiscordant couples [as] Africa’s largest HIV at-risk group”. ‘Serodiscordant’ refers to a relationship in which one member is HIV+ and the other HIV-. There are a number of terms that refer to this type of relationship:

  • Discordant.
  • Serodivergent.
  • Magnetic.
  • HIV-positive/negative.
  • Serodifferent.

For these couples, the risk of infection is obviously of grave concern. These tips below from are useful for the HIV- partner when it comes to reducing the chance of becoming infected and enjoying a healthy, long-term relationship:

Encourage the use of antiretroviral therapy

If your partner takes their ART medication as advised, their viral load will decrease as will the chance of transmitting the virus.

Always use condoms

Use a male or female condom correctly to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Choose less risky sexual behaviours

If you’re not swapping bodily fluids, there’s no risk of getting HIV. Oral sex is safer than anal or vaginal sex while anal sex is the highest-risk sexual activity for HIV transmission.

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Take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP is a pill that contains two medicines that are also used to treat HIV. By taking the tablet every day it can offer good protection along with other prevention methods like condoms.

Act immediately if you think you’ve been exposed

If you have had anal or vaginal sex with an HIV+ partner without a condom or while taking PrEP, see a doctor immediately. Your doctor should prescribe PrEP immediately to be taken daily for four weeks.

Get tested!

You should be getting tested at least once a year, although your doctor may suggest more frequent testing if you’re in a relationship with an HIV+ partner.

Beware STDs

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) can have negative effects on your health and can also increase your chance of getting HIV. Both you and your partner should get tested and treated for STDs especially if either of you is sexually active outside the partnership.

Keep an eye out for Part II of Relationship status: it’s complicated for tips for the HIV+ partner.


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When to start Antiretroviral treatment and the reasons behind why you should not delay treatment.

How to stay negative when at risk of becoming HIV+.

How can the spread of HIV be prevented?

How to take the relevant precautions and prevent transmission against the HIV virus.

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