About Staying Negative

Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.

Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!

There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Definition

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that affects the immune system. Once the virus enters the blood stream, it infects healthy cells and replicates.  It breaks down the body’s natural defences by affecting key cells in the immune system called CD4 cells. CD4 cells help recognise the ‘bad’ cells in your body that enter from infection. Once your immune system is weakened, illnesses which you would ordinarily be able to fight off with ease, can become far more severe. These illnesses are called opportunistic infections and can range from the common cold to much more severe infections. People with HIV can often become infected with multiple illnesses at the same time because of their weakened immune system.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and indicates that particular opportunistic infections have severely damaged a person’s immune system. In Australia a person is defined as having AIDS if they have what is known as an ‘AIDS defining illness and a HIV positive diagnosis’. These illnesses can be one or a combination of infections and/or malignancies. For a full list of AIDS defining conditions visit the Department of Health and Ageing website.

If left untreated HIV can progress into AIDS. Being infected with HIV does not mean that you are diagnosed with AIDS, in fact it is quite possible for people to have HIV for many years but not show any symptoms that define AIDS.

The treatments for HIV have come a long way in the past ten years. With the advancement of treatments the severity and types of side effects have dramatically improved. With treatment, the life expectancy of someone who is HIV positive can be the same as someone who is HIV negative.

Signs or symptoms

Shortly after becoming infected with HIV, a person may develop what is known as a seroconversion illness, where they experience flu-like symptoms. They may get a fever, rashes, sore throat or swollen glands which should clear after a couple of weeks. Not everyone who becomes HIV positive experiences this, and having flu like symptoms after having unprotected sex does not necessarily mean you have become HIV positive (you may have just caught the flu).

Symptoms of ongoing HIV infection may include unexplained diarrhoea, weight loss, recurrent rashes, fever or an AIDS-related illness such as pneumonia, brain infections, skin cancers, and severe fungal infections. 

Viral load

A person’s viral load is a measurement of how much HIV is in their blood. A high viral load means that a person has a lot of HIV present in their blood and is highly infectious, with over 100,000 copies of the virus per millilitre of blood. In comparison an undetectable viral load means there’s less than 50 copies of the virus per mil of blood.

Just because a person has an undetectable viral load it doesn’t mean they do not have HIV present in their blood, it just means we don’t have the technology to detect below 50 copies. However, even when the viral load in your blood is undetectable it doesn’t mean the viral load in your cum (semen) is also undetectable. Therefore an undetectable viral load test result isn’t a reliable way of determining how safe it is to fuck without condoms.

Being on HIV treatments is the only way to achieve an undetectable viral load. Therefore if an HIV positive person stops treatment the HIV levels in their blood will again become detectable.

Often when someone first becomes infected with HIV they don’t know they’ve been infected. When HIV first enters the body, it replicates quickly, producing a very high viral load making transmission during this time particularly easy especially if having sex without condoms. Therefore it is very risky to have unprotected sex with someone as they may not know their actual HIV status

Transmission

HIV is present not only in the blood, but it is also present in other bodily fluids, including cum, pre-cum, anal mucous, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Any fluids containing HIV needs to get into a person’s blood stream before they can become infected. The main way that HIV is transmitted amongst gay men is through fucking (anal sex) without condoms. Varying sexual practices carry different levels of risk. To find out more about the risk associated with different sexual practices go to Top2Bottom.

HIV is also transmitted through sharing injecting equipment or even sharing tattooing needles, although it is important to note that HIV doesn’t live very long outside of the body. HIV is very unlikely to be transmitted through oral sex, but the risk increases if there are cuts or other wounds on the penis or in the mouth.

Recreational drug use or drinking alcohol can sometimes lead to prolonged or rough fucking due to their tendency to lower inhibitions, risk perceptions and the ability to register physical pain. In layman’s terms you may not be able to feel if your arse is being damaged because it is being fucked/fisted/stretched beyond its ordinary capacity. Your risk of contracting HIV increases when your arse has been damaged as small tears in the lining of the anus provide an easy entry point for HIV. This also applies to the skin of the cock which can tear during rough sex play.

Having an STI makes it easier to pass on or acquire HIV. If you are HIV positive your viral load is increased making transmission easier. If you are HIV negative an STI makes you more vulnerable to picking up HIV.

HIV can also be passed on from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or when breastfeeding however modern treatment methods can prevent this in most cases.

For those who are HIV-positive, having an undetectable viral load does not mean that you can’t pass on HIV when fucking. It is best to always use a condom.

Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV in some way, taking PEP medication  could help with preventing you from getting infected but it must be taken within 72 hours. For more information on this, please go to PEP section in How to Protect Myself.

Window period and Testing

The most common test for HIV is an antibody blood test. When infected with HIV, the body will produce HIV antibodies that will try to fight the virus. The window period is the time between becoming infected and the time it takes for an HIV test to detect the infection. This happens because the body has not had a chance to produce the specific antibodies that can be detected by the test. The window period usually lasts about six weeks but can take up to 12 weeks. The result of this is that the person you are fucking may think they are HIV negative, but could actually be HIV positive and not know it.

Indeterminate Results

On very rare occasions, an HIV test can turn out neither positive or negative, this is called an indeterminate result. This happens when there is an antibody reaction to only a few of the HIV proteins. This could be because the blood sample was taken during the window period. Alternatively sometimes the test can produce a positive reaction to recent influenza vaccinations or other viral infections.

If your test results come back indeterminate, you will have to have additional tests where more blood is taken over a period of time. The majority of people who get an indeterminate test result actually turn out to be HIV negative.

Tell us your story

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Come and tell us your story! We would love to hear from you! If you want to find out a little more about how it all works, give Jessie a call at VAC on (03) 9865 6700, or email staying.negative@vac.org.au