Dating is part of our everyday life. As young people, we are all looking for love. In my work with young people living with HIV, I see that most of our concerns are around how we disclose and at what point we disclose. Coming from an African region, we have a different way of dating. We say that dating is the fun part, where we are not serious about getting married. Then we get into courtship and then we finally get married. It is difficult to disclose one’s HIV status in the dating phase because of worries that the relationship could go sour. Then the person you have been dating might start going behind your back and telling everyone that you are living with HIV.
“No matter how much we talk about safe sex and use of condoms, this may not be an option for everyone. For many young women, it is hard to negotiate the use of condoms because their partner may say, ‘Why do you want to use a condom? Do you have HIV or an STI? Otherwise, surely we can have unprotected sex.’”
Disclosure of HIV status is not easy, and unless our society changes, it will keep on being difficult. I was doing training for HIV focal points in Zimbabwe and I asked participants, “Is it okay for a person not living with HIV to date a person living with HIV?” Of course, they all said that it was okay. Then I brought it a bit closer to home and asked, “What if your teenager, who is not living with HIV, comes home and says, ‘Mummy, my partner is living with HIV?’ ” They all said, “No way.” And these are HIV professionals. So it is not just about two young people being together; it is also about what the family says, what colleagues say and what society says.
For young people living with HIV, general life is also more complex. Imagine going out with your partner with whom you have not yet disclosed your status and then you need to take your medication. You are sitting at the dinner table and you want to take your medication, but how could you do that without telling them what it is? You need to plan your life more: to always make sure that you have water so you can take your medication. And you cannot get drunk because then you may forget and you will miss a dose for a day.
Living with HIV is not easy, worse still not finding love when you need it. We need a world free of stigma and discrimination that can enable young people to enjoy and explore their sexuality regardless of HIV status. Young people are the leaders of today. We have the potential to be trailblazers when it comes to HIV prevention and ending stigma and discrimination – if you ignite the passion of just one young person, they can light up the whole forest. This can start with taking control of how we navigate our dating lives and choosing when and how we disclose our HIV status.