Feminist Karen Fratti took to the website redbookmag.com to speak out about her experience living with HIV. In her write up, she said she’s slept with over 100 men just when she was in her 20s. Wow!
I was living in New York City with a boyfriend I’ll call Matt when I was diagnosed with HIV. I was 28 and he was just hitting 35.
It was my first steady, long-term relationship, and we did what I used to think of as “grown-up” things. Like having Sunday football parties or fighting in Home Depot about what color to paint an accent wall in our living room.
We made complex weekday dinners to distract ourselves from the fact that we were both pretty bored with each other.
Of course, I wasn’t really grown up, because I had never even been tested for HIV at my yearly checkup at Planned Parenthood, where I went for primary care.
Taking care of your health is more adult than playing house with a boyfriend, yet, even though I had been tested for STIs, I had never thought of getting an HIV test. But one day, randomly, I added the HIV rapid test to the list of things to do before intake to my pap smear appointment. I thought it was a formality I should finally take care of.
The positive result almost didn’t compute at first. What does that mean? I kept asking the nurse who took me upstairs at the Margaret Sanger Center in the East Village for a second blood test to confirm the rapid test result.
I was in shock that simply sleeping with probably close to a hundred men throughout my 20s — in college, in Rome, Italy, where I lived for five years, in New York City upon my return — and not being strict about using condoms could have such a serious consequence.
I grew up during the HIV/AIDS crisis and should have known better, but as a heterosexual woman, I equated safe sex with not getting pregnant more than with getting an STI, let alone HIV. I know how that sounds. It’s embarrassing to admit that now, but I really did ignorantly think sex was all fun and games. For me, “dating” was basically a euphemism for casual sex.
I had no type, no goal, really, and a bad one-night stand was just as much as fun as one that turned into a mini-romantic fling. I naively thought I was invincible, that one day a hookup would lead to true Disney princess-style love, and never assumed that HIV would have anything to do with my life.
After my diagnosis, Matt and I stopped making dinner together, speaking to each other and sleeping in the same bed. (He was negative and had been getting tested his entire life.) We broke up within the year.
There was a positive aspect to my HIV, though I didn’t know that then. It woke me up and made me realize what I needed and wanted from a partner. Matt had never been a good match for me, really; my diagnosis just shined a spotlight on that.
The only bad thing about breaking up with Matt was the realization that I would have to start dating again. But when you’re the kind of person who equates dating with dinners, drinks and casual sex, HIV can put a real damper on all that