Dear Dr Ren:
I met a guy online several months ago and we hooked up. Before doing anything, I asked if he was HIV-positive and he said no. We had sex and he came in my mouth (yes, irresponsible behaviour) but that was the extent of our unsafe sex.
I got sick within 10 days of our first meeting with flu-like symptoms as well as a sore in my mouth. I contacted him to see if I had passed on whatever I had, but he was fine. After I was well again, we hooked up a few more times.
Eventually he told me that he had lied initially. He was HIV-positive! His explanation was that he did not want to be rejected. After my shock wore off, I figured that if I had contracted HIV it was partially my fault and I couldn’t do anything after the fact. I begged him never do this to anyone else again.
After about a month, my acceptance turned to anger. Now I feel I cannot be complacent about this. While part of me wants to forgive and forget, another part wants him punished. I have had two HIV tests over the past four months — both negative — and will be having a third, just to be certain, when the six-month window closes. I have been through a personal hell and do not want anyone else to go through this because of his irresponsible behaviour.
Here’s my question: should I have him charged with a crime? I asked him about his HIV status, which he is legally obliged to disclose. He did not. Another factor is that he is not Canadian and currently does not have legal status here. I have considered contacting Immigration to have him deported.
What do you think?
Lucky but Angry
Dear Lucky but Angry:
despite our best information and intentions, most of us have experienced a safe sex slip. You deserve kudos for what is commendable sexual etiquette. You asked about HIV before having sex and, except once, used barriers. Even so, you could have caught the virus or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs.)
That’s the nature of the beast. We must be scrupulously careful about our sexual protection until we know we can form a fluid bond with a particular partner. Trust does not work.
Although I do not condone it, I can understand your buddy’s motivation for lying. Many people are rejected because they are HIV-positive. Continual rejection can lead to deception as a protective mechanism. He may have justified his behaviour in his own mind by telling himself that you engaged only once in what many view as low-risk sex. Indeed, he might never have told you the truth.
Fortunately he did and you were tested. The sore in your mouth was not HIV-related or your tests would have registered positive. However, that sore could have indicated syphilis. Were you tested for that and other STIs? If not, this would be a good time to do so. At this point, there is no way to tell what caused your flu-like symptoms — possibly the flu.
What this man did — lying about his HIV status and willingly engaging in unprotected sex — is morally reprehensible. The legal implications are less clear. You can make a criminal complaint about his behaviour, but the Supreme Court of Canada case (Cuerrier, 1998) which governs such concerns is not as clear as you might think, especially since no ‘intercourse’ (high-risk sex) occurred.
Immigration would likely be interested only if he is convicted of a crime. You could also consider approaching your Medical Health Officer who may further educate your HIV-positive partner.
However, let’s take a closer look at your situation. I suspect you might have given blowjobs to other guys without benefit of condoms. You have asked their status and, as in this case, trusted their responses. You have been tested regularly and remained healthy. Had your buddy not revealed his status, he would have generated no crisis.
Consider this: some of those other guys may have been positive as well, knowingly or not. You took the same risk, but remained oblivious to your danger. Ironically, you are upset now because you were informed.
You chose to have unprotected first-time sex with an internet hook-up. He chose to lie about his HIV status. You both used poor judgment, but only once. I suspect you will not forego safe sex practices anytime soon. We can hope for the same for your buddy.
Remember, we all make mistakes. He had low-risk, unsafe sex with you on one occasion, and he eventually told you he was positive so you could be tested. He could have done better; he could have done worse.
Perhaps realizing you were deceived about something as serious as a life-threatening illness triggered a vengeance response in you; understandable, but off point.
Be angry with AIDS, injustice, fear and deceit. Then take responsibility for your actions and hope others will too. Take nothing for granted and always take care of yourself.