Undetectable equals untransmittable.” This has been the anthem of independent HIV activists and the brave researchers behind an international movement. But what does that catchy phrase mean?
U=U means that someone on HIV treatment living with an undetectable viral load will not transmit the virus to a sexual partner — even in the absence of other prevention measures, including PrEP or condoms.
It’s a campaign and movement, first started by Bruce Richman with Prevention Access Campaign, supported by nearly 800 organizations in 100 countries, and it is championed by government agencies and researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Naturally, as someone living with HIV, this scientific fact has even deeper implications to me besides just the epic news that I am incapable of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner. Why then, must I still disclose that I am living with undetectable HIV to a sexual partner?
Before you attack me about how unethical it is not to disclose, let me ask: Is it really ethical to require me to disclose something that will have absolutely no impact or effect on a sexual partner? I’d argue it is not ethical.
In Tennessee, it’s a requirement of law that I disclose my HIV diagnosis or face up to 15 years per sexual act in prison. I’d argue that is an unfair burden placed on me at the state level. I’d argue that it is unconstitutional to have that unfair requirement based on out-dated science in my state.
Many will probably not agree with my stance that my health, which doesn’t impact a sexual partner, is none of their business. I suspect some people will begin to question if I really know that I am undetectable, and I’m guessing those same people would trust someone who claims they are negative without giving it a second thought.
I suspect that the 30-plus years of HIV stigma may lead people to not believe every leading expert in the world on HIV transmission and instead rely on their own misinformed opinion. I also believe that some may even use scare tactics to try and continue to marginalize those living with HIV.
None of this justifies, in my opinion, the now over-reaching requirement that I must unfairly disclose my HIV status since I am undetectable. What it does justify is my belief that consensual sexual activity between two adults is a matter best kept out of court and maintained in the privacy of the bedroom between those two individuals.
Will I disclose? Of course. I am someone that shares too much anyways.
Should I be held to a legal requirement for that disclosure to happen? I say no. And I think I have the Constitution as my defense.
Sex is an activity that bears equal responsibility on both parties to equally share risk. U=U is life-changing because it is interrupting HIV stigma in our lives. It’s time that U=U interrupts my biggest fear — that some crazed person accuses me of not disclosing, and I have to face a jury, despite being innocent and despite it being impossible for me to transmit since I am undetectable, and then having to put the next 15 years of my life in 12 peoples’ hands.
Watch this video from DatingPositives for more information.
Josh Robbins is an award-winning sexual health advocate, author of the site imstilljosh.com and spokesperson for DatingPositives.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category.