If you’re a gay or bisexual man living with HIV we’re here to help. Whether it’s coming to terms with a new diagnosis, managing treatments, dealing with sex and relationships, feeling better about yourself, or you just want someone to talk to – we can offer support that’s right for you. We probably know what you’re going through because we’ve been there too. All our frontline staff and mentors are living with HIV.
Our next GayTalk on Saturday 04 March will be on the theme of Dating, Partner Disclosure and Relationships. From 12noon to 4pm. Lunch included. Please arrive at 11.30am if this is your first time. All welcome! At Positively UK, 345 City Road, London EC1V 1LR.
We know that being diagnosed with HIV can be a worrying and confusing time. With our programme of workshops, one to one support and groups, help is never far away
Our recently diagnosed weekend workshops are here to help you gain a better understanding of HIV, talk about treatment options and discuss living with HIV as part of everyday life. You’ll also meet other people in a similar position, facing the same kind of concerns. Dates and further information can be found here
Using our network of trained peer mentors, we’ll match you with someone who has been through similar issues as you and can give you the individual support you need
Whether you need a one off session or something ongoing, we can tailor support that’s right for you. All our peer mentors are living with HIV themselves and are trained to provide a comprehensive package of emotional and practical support around all aspects of living with HIV. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Living with HIV isn’t something you have to deal with on your own. Our Gay Talk group for gay and bisexual men meets on the first Saturday of every month
Facilitated by staff and mentors, the group provides a safe, friendly and welcoming space for you to get peer support, build life skills, have fun and socialise. Each month focusses on a different theme and we lay on a free lunch! Details of upcoming events can be found on the Calendar of Events. Email Jim on JFielder@positivelyuk.org or call him on 020 7713 0444 to find out more
For those looking for an evening social space to meet and mingle with other guys living with HIV, Gay Talk Social takes place on the third Thursday of every month
Led by our peer mentors, Gay Talk Social (held in a different bar each time) alternates with our Gay Talk Cinema night. To know where the next one is taking place and what is planned see the Calendar of Events. Email Jim on JFielder@positivelyuk.org or call him on 020 7713 0444 to find out more
If you are experiencing financial difficulties or need support around welfare, our benefits advisor can help
Our benefits advise team can check your benefit entitlements, help you to complete the necessary forms, advocate with the Department of Work and Pensions and your local council and attend medical assessments with you. Appointments are available by request.
If you want to meet one of our staff or mentors in your hospital or health clinic, we provide peer support in several London clinics
Homerton Hospital – Every Monday
Royal Free Hospital – Every Monday
St Mary’s Hospital – Every Tuesday
Ealing Hospital – 1st Tuesday of the month
Royal London Hospital– Every Tuesday
Northwick Park Hospital– Every Thursday
Newham Hospital– 1st & 3rd Friday of each month
Chelsea & Westminster – Every Thursday
Charing Cross hospital– Alternate Wednesdays
If you would like to develop new skills and use your own experience to support people living with HIV why don’t you consider training to become a peer mentor? For more details contact Garry Brough on 020 7713 0444 or email email@example.com. For information about other volunteering opportunities with us please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether you want support, advice, social events, dating, sports, activities… it’s everything you need to get the most out of life!
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. It is a transmissible virus that is present in blood, genital fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, and moisture in the rectum) and breast milk. It is mainly passed on to someone else during unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex or by sharing injecting equipment.
Whereas HIV is a virus that can be passed on, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a combination of illnesses and symptoms caused by having HIV over time. The virus affects the body’s immune system, the part of the body which usually works to fight off germs such as bacteria and viruses. A weakened immune system leaves the body more vulnerable to attack by a range of different diseases and opportunistic infections. It may take many years for somebody who has HIV to develop AIDS if they are not on treatment. HIV medication can stop the virus damaging the immune system altogether.
Is there a cure for HIV?
No, there is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS but modern HIV treatments are very effective and help to manage your HIV. They suppress the levels of the virus in your body down to very tiny amounts until they are so low as to be undetectable in blood samples, which is the goal of treatment. As long as you take your medication correctly at the times prescribed (known as adherence) you can expect the virus to stay at this very low level indefinitely.
I’m worried that I may have been exposed to/or exposed someone to HIV, what do I do?
HIV is not an easy virus to catch sexually, but if you are worried that you may have been exposed to a risk the first thing you should do is go to your doctor or a sexual health clinic and get an HIV test. If you do this straight away (and within 72 hours) you may also be prescribed PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) which can stop the virus before it has a chance to take hold. PEP is also available at any hospital Accident and Emergency department.
It’s also helpful to understand how HIV is and is not transmitted.
HIV is found in body fluids including genital fluids (vaginal fluids, semen and moisture in the rectum), and blood. The main ways that HIV is passed on are through unprotected anal or vaginal sex and by sharing injecting equipment. Performing oral sex may pose a small risk if there are sores or bleeding gums, as this provides an easy route for infection, but the person with HIV would need to have high virus levels (viral load) to make this likely. Condoms provide excellent protection against HIV transmission during sex. Effective HIV treatment, which reduces viral load, has been shown to reduce the risk of transmission.
Saliva, spit, urine and faeces are not infectious for HIV. You cannot get HIV from kissing, hugging, or by shaking hands with somebody with HIV – or any other normal social contact. Nor can you get HIV by being in the same place as someone with HIV, or by sharing household items such as crockery, cutlery, or bed linen. HIV is not passed on by spitting, sneezing or coughing. Many sexual situations have no risk of transmitting HIV such as masturbation, receiving oral sex and vaginal or anal sex using a condom.
If you think you may have exposed someone to HIV, then you should let them know as soon as possible. This gives them the opportunity to take PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) which, if taken within 72 hours, can kill off the virus before it has a chance to take hold.
If I have HIV will I be able to lead a normal life?
HIV treatment is now more effective and simpler to take than ever before. It involves far fewer (if any) side effects and usually fewer pills. New studies show that if people take treatment as recommended they can expect to live as long a life as anybody else.
Once you have become stable on treatment, you shouldn’t need to visit the doctor more than a couple of times a year for blood tests to monitor your health. And taking pills at the same time every day might seem like hard work, but you soon get used to it.
Living with a chronic condition such as HIV means that you need to do the things that doctors would recommend to everyone: eat healthily, get regular exercise, stop smoking, don’t drink too much and get plenty of sleep. These are all important, particularly as we grow older. Ageing processes involve body systems that are affected by HIV and sometimes by side effects, so it’s important that we look after ourselves physically and mentally.
For more information on HIV and quality of life go to i-base
See our Gay and Bisexual men’s Survival Kit for a wide range of support, social and recreational opportunities to help you live well and connect with other guys living with HIV.
How will HIV affect my sex life?
Having HIV can affect people’s feelings about sex in many different ways. Some people become anxious about passing HIV on, or feel less desirable. While some people may go off sex altogether for a time, others might instead look for it more and more. It may seem more important than ever to feel wanted or to have moments of intimacy and pleasure.
Some people living with HIV believe that a partner with HIV is the perfect solution. These days, with so many people on treatment with an ‘undetectable’ viral load, there are many people living with HIV who are in relationships where the partner is not HIV positive. Whatever the HIV status of your partner, the success of a relationship will probably be determined more by shared interests rather than HIV status.
Most people living with HIV do continue to have sex and form relationships. If you use condoms, it’s unlikely that you will pass HIV on to a sexual partner. If your HIV treatment is effective and your viral load is ‘undetectable’, it’s unlikely that you will pass HIV on to a sexual partner, even if you don’t use condoms.
However, condoms are important for your health too – they will protect you from sexually transmitted infections. Some infections, such as hepatitis C, can be more difficult to treat when you have HIV. So it’s a good idea, particularly if you have multiple sexual partners, to get regular sexual health check-ups.
Do I have to disclose my status to my partner, family, friends and work colleagues?
Talking about our HIV and disclosing our status to others is one of the most challenging things about living with HIV. Deciding who and how to tell can feel very daunting, especially when we are first diagnosed. There are lots of different people we might want to disclose to: a partner, family, friends, work colleagues and healthcare providers. Here are some general tips on how to go about this. For more information and things to consider with particular audiences, download our Talking about HIV factsheet.
General disclosure tips
When will I need to start treatment and how will it make me feel?
HIV infection progresses at very different rates in different people, but nearly everyone who is HIV positive will need treatment at some time. When you are diagnosed, your doctor will take two essential blood tests: your CD4 count and your viral load. The CD4 count tells you about the health of your immune system and the viral load tests tell you how much virus is in your blood. Because your CD4 count is closely related to your risk of becoming ill, this is the test that your doctor will be interested in when it comes to deciding about when to start treatment. Current NHS guidelines recommend that anyone who is diagnosed HIV positive should be offered the opportunity to start treatment as soon as possible regardless of CD4 count.
HIV medication is called combination therapy or ART (antiretroviral therapy). It uses three or more drugs to treat HIV. Treatment works for anyone no matter how you were infected. Your doctor should explain what drugs are available and what options will be best suited to your needs. Taking the meds exactly as prescribed (known as adherence) will reduce the virus in your body to tiny amounts and your viral load should become ‘undetectable’. However, some cells will always contain HIV and you will still be HIV positive. Before you start treatment, it’s important you are emotionally and psychologically ready, as it is currently a lifelong commitment and you have to take the meds every day.
Everyone worries about possible treatment side effects. Whereas some treatments do have side effects, these will vary from individual to individual and modern HIV drugs are generally easily tolerated. Side-effects may be a problem when starting a new course of treatments, but they should subside within a few days or weeks. You may need to make some small changes to manage any side-effects, but you shouldn’t have to make big changes to your lifestyle in order to take your medication.
If you continue to have problems with side-effects, you don’t have to put up with them, as there are a range of different treatments available. Speak to your doctor about how the meds can be changed to suit you. And if you are on a treatment regime that is difficult to adhere to, don’t be afraid to tell your doctor.
How can I better manage my use of drugs and alcohol?
Drugs and alcohol can make us feel confident, part of the group, relaxed and hornier. But we know that taking them often leads to risky sexual behaviour. The biggest risk can be that drugs cloud judgement or make us lose ourselves in sex more intense, making us unaware of what we’re doing or what we have have done. This can expose us to higher risks of catching other STI’s including Hepatitis C.
If you choose to use drugs or engage in ‘chemsex’, it’s important you look after yourself and protect your sexual health. Some HIV drugs can push levels of recreational drugs in the body towards overdose or life-threatening levels. Being high can also make it less likely that you’ll take your HIV pills. If you are worried about drug interactions talk to your doctor or go to Drugfucked.
Drug taking always comes with the potential for a loss of control – for a lot of people that’s the point. However most people also want to keep control over the sexual risks they are willing to take. The following tips might help increase the chances of you staying in control:
If you feel that your drug taking behaviour is getting out of control and impacting in a negative way on other parts of your life, it might mean that it’s time to look at the choices you’re making. Contact Jim on 020 77130444 or email email@example.com for further information and 1-to-1 peer support.
What are the things I need to know about other STI’s including Hepatitis C?
Rates of sexually transmitted infections among gay men are on the increase. According to Public Health England, figures showed a 46% increase in syphilis infections, 32% in gonorrhoea and 26% in chlamydia. This is probably accounted for by high levels of condomless sex as well as improvements in testing. The report also highlights a disproportionately high number of men within these figures are living with HIV.
You can significantly reduce your risk of transmitting or being infected with an STI by:
The Hepatitis C virus (hep C) is transmitted through direct blood to blood contact and affects the liver. Over time, this can lead to significant liver damage. The liver has a vital role in supporting almost every organ in the body and is essential for good health. Whereas you can be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccination for Hep C.
The highest risk of transmission is through sharing needles and other injecting equipment, but Hep C can also be passed on by sharing crack pipes and straws to snort drugs, sexual activity where there is blood to blood contact and sharing razors or toothbrushes. Men who have sex with men seem to be at a higher risk of catching it through sex. This may be because of the increase in ‘chemsex’ where recreational drugs are used to heighten and lengthen sexual pleasure. Blood to blood contact is more likely to happen during rough or longer sex sessions and through the use of injecting equipment. The risk of catching Hep C is also higher if you are living with HIV or have another STI.
If you are injecting drugs you should use new equipment and dispose of it safely to avoid catching hep C or passing it on. Your local drug service should be able to provide you with sterile injecting equipment and disposal bins. Many areas also have pharmacy based needle exchanges, which supply injecting equipment. Using condoms and changing them between partners will greatly reduce transmission of Hep C during sex. And be careful when using and sharing sex toys – always wash them in warm soapy water before use and when changing partners.
If you think you might have been exposed to Hep C, then you should get tested. If you are diagnosed positive, cure rates are very high for most people and new drugs with shorter treatment times and fewer side effects have been developed. However, at the moment, these new drugs are not widely available to all. You may therefore only be given the choice of older drugs or having to wait until newer drugs have wider access.
Further information on Hep C can be found here.
Will I still be able to have children?
Yes. Being HIV positive does not exclude you from becoming a parent.
Men living with HIV who are stable on treatment and have an undetectable viral load are able to conceive naturally with very low risk of passing the virus on to an HIV negative mother. However, if the mother is anxious about the level of risk, there is the option of her taking PREP. Whereas in the past men would need to have their semen go through expensive and, not always reliable, sperm washing techniques, modern HIV treatments mean this is no longer necessary.
For women living with HIV, taking HIV medication prevents HIV transmission during pregnancy.
Do I have to pay for my HIV treatment?
Since 2012 all HIV treatments are free for all regardless of where you live or your immigration status.
You may however have to pay for non-HIV medications prescribed by your GP.
Every month, our Gay Men’s Support Worker answers your questions in a special column in Boyz magazine. You can read his most recent article here: