Sexual health is everyone’s responsibility, ACON has reminded people as a court awarded $750,000 to a man infected with HIV.

“Both HIV positive and HIV negative people must take responsibility for protecting themselves,” ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill told Sydney Star Observer.

“There is no assurance that a person who says they are HIV negative is actually negative.

“Some HIV negative men in ongoing relationships with other negative men choose to have anal sex with each other without using condoms. At best this decision can help make the sex they have special; at worst it can increase the risk of either or both partners contracting HIV.

“Choosing not to use condoms with a regular partner is not only a decision about the type of sex you have together, it is a decision about how much responsibility for your sexual wellbeing you are prepared to hand over to your partner.

“By choosing to have sex without condoms within your relationship, you are saying to each other ‘I trust you with my health’. ”

Parkhill stressed that this decision should only be made after a couple had discussed all risks, set up rules about their behaviour, and gone to get two separate HIV tests with a three-month interval.

In sero-discordant relationships, ongoing condom and lube use was recommended.

“We recognise that some sero-discordant couples may discuss not using condoms, however. In this instance, it is important they contact their health care provider to discuss the risks, so they can make an informed decision,” Parkhill said.

“For people with HIV, there is no easy way to disclose their status to a partner, or any guarantee about the response. If you think you are eventually going to tell someone you’ve met, the longer you delay it, the harder it can become — and the more resentment you might have to deal with.”

Parkhill added his voice to others in the HIV sector wary of pursuing legal action over transmission, except in extreme cases where someone was deliberately passing on the disease.

“The threat of imprisonment actually may act as an incentive for people not to know their HIV or STI status, in order to shield themselves, which could lead to an increase in transmission rates,” he said.

“In countries where HIV transmission is criminalised, the implications for public health can be quite serious. For gay men, sex workers and drug users, the stigma and discrimination they experience as a result of their potential criminality can often drive many to the margins of society.

“This can increase their exposure to other infectious diseases and violence and decrease their access to effective health care and services.

“These sorts of cases are extremely rare. According to the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, around 28,000 people in Australia have been infected with

HIV in the last 20 years, but fewer than 30 cases of criminal transmission have been brought to trial — with only half involving homosexual people.

“Over the last three years there have been some high-profile cases involving men who have sex with men, that have attracted a great deal of attention. These cases, and particularly the media coverage that has accompanied them, led to an increased stigmatisation and demonisation of gay men with HIV as ‘callous monsters’.
“The fact is that practically all gay men with HIV are extremely concerned about the health and wellbeing of their partners and their community, and behave accordingly.”

info: ACON provides a range of free counselling services to help people unsure about how to discuss their HIV status. They also run support and discussion groups. For more information, visit www.acon.org.au or call 9206 2000.

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