I am HIV positive and have been for 3 years now. Since being diagnosed, I’ve avoided serious relationships with men. But, I find I miss the closeness and support an intimate relationship offers. Are there benefits to having a sexual relationship, if you’re HIV positive or is it better for your health and the health of someone you care a lot about to abstain? Worried in Detroit, MI
Dear SuzyKnew Reader,
After many years of medical research and learning about living with HIV and AIDS, we know that HIV positive people can and do live long and rewarding lives. Sexual and intimate relationships are a key part of a rewarding and satisfying life. There is a lot of literature on how to continue your sex life once you have been diagnosed with HIV (usually focused on protection and avoiding transmission). But there is surprisingly little written about how sex can benefit your health and wellbeing if you are HIV positive. Here is a list that may surprise you.
#1 Sex can help stave off stress, anxiety. If you are HIV positive, it’s likely that you are facing daily stressors. Stress can weaken the immune system, making it less able to fight off infections. Here’s the good news- sex activates the release of “feel good hormones”- endorphins and oxytocin. When these hormones are released, it creates feelings of intimacy, relaxation and can reduce stress. For an HIV positive person, reducing stress and keeping healthy is paramount.
#2 Sex can reduce depression. People with HIV are at a high risk for depression. According to doctors at the AIDS Psychiatry Service at Johns Hopkins, depression can trigger poor self-care, including non-adherence to drug regimens. The consequences of not taking your medications are dire; it can lead to poor health outcomes and drug resistance. So how can sex help fight depression?- it’s the same “feel good hormones” at work- endorphins and oxytocin. Although these happy hormones may give you a little boost, they will not be enough if you are experiencing clinical depression, and you will need to be treated by your doctor.
#3 Sex can lead to better sleep. Sleep is an essential part of good health and plays an important role in immune system health and function. Many drugs to treat HIV have side effects that affect sleep. Complications of HIV disease, such as peripheral neuropathy, can keep patients up at night. Sex (think about that post coital feeling of satisfaction), can lead to a better sleep. According to researchers at the Morehouse School of Medicine, several hormones are at play here- including estrogen and prolactin- which contribute to feelings of peace and relaxation and that can both lead to sleepiness and keep you asleep.
#4 Sex can help reduce pain. Barry R. Komisaruk, PhD from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey found that vaginal stimulation can block chronic back and leg pain. The lab studies have also found that genital self-stimulation can reduce menstrual cramps, arthritic pain, and in some cases even headache. There is no study conclusively linking the reduction of HIV-related pain to sex, but you may be willing to try this at home as your own clinical study.
Here’s to a long life, good health, and enjoyment!