It's Just Sex?
BY Benjamin Ryan
November 18 2010 5:00 AM ET
Change of Plans
Rosario Melendez, a 36-year-old from San Antonio who is a self-proclaimed sexual enthusiast, tested positive in 1994 as her husband was dying of AIDS-related complications. After his death, "I thought my life was over," she says, "because they told me that I had only a year left. So basically I gave up on love and having kids. I started having sex with random people. Kind of like, OK, this is it. I'm going to die, so I might as well enjoy it, right? I enjoyed my life to the max."
While she was living it up under the maxim of "Stay up all night, enjoy, drink, have sex," Melendez says she still longed for lasting companionship. "But having to tell somebody that you're positive and facing the feelings of rejection? That's one thing I didn't want to go through again," she reveals. "I was afraid."
Eventually, she started falling for a new man. They had some good times together, sleeping in the same bed without any sex at first. "I went through hell trying to decide if I wanted to tell him" that she was HIV-positive, she says. "So finally I did, and he said, 'Well, I already knew.' I wanted to kill him! Afterward, I was like, 'OK, let's just hang out and have sex!'" The two have since married and now have nearly 4-year-old twins.
Serovich, whose research has found that young HIV-positive women today have an increasing desire for motherhood, says a story like Melendez's proves that "HIV doesn't have to stop anybody's life in any particular area, whether it be family or their sex life or their work or their recreation."
Jack Drescher, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and the author of Psychoanalytic Therapy and the Gay Man adds that often "inhibitions reside within the person, not within the environment around them. People might feel that nothing is going to work until they tell the people around them, who have completely different ideas. One thing that inhibits people's relationships and their sexuality is they get so self-absorbed about what they imagine the response is going to be that they stop paying attention to what their actual responses are."
Scott Brynildsen went through a trajectory similar to Melendez's: diagnosis as a teenager, then a period of urgent sexual abandon fueled by thoughts of a supposedly bleak future. "Initially I said, 'I need to get laid. A lot. And then die,'_" the 32-year-old from Seattle says in an irreverent deadpan.
But while he too has since settled down with a steady partner -- his boyfriend, Christopher Adams, relocated from Chapel Hill, N.C., after the two of them met online -- Brynildsen lacks Melendez's enthusiastic lust. For the past four years an almost nonexistent sex drive has left him largely celibate. In the two months since Adams got to town, Brynildsen reports that the two of them have had sex only once. (Adams says it was twice.) "My sex drive just isn't there anymore," Brynildsen says. "It doesn't really faze me anymore. It's a perk when I do get off, but I don't really expect anything."
In the early years, he says, fears of rejection and of possibly infecting someone dampened his sex drive. Lately, while his T-cell count and viral load are fine since starting on combination therapy a year ago, Brynildsen has had nagging troubles with unexplained nerve damage in his left leg. Not feeling well and walking with a cane have left him depressed.
Adams, who is 27, tested positive two years ago. He says he hoped joining a gym and participating in some mental health counseling would help both of them develop a more fruitful sex life. "It's slowly coming together," he says. "I'm trying to come to terms with his form of thinking. And I'm compromising. I could have sex two or three times a day if I wanted to."
But that level of optimism isn't necessarily the norm. "Before you move on, you have to acknowledge that an HIV diagnosis is traumatic, and trauma can interfere with a person's sex drive," Drescher says. "You might want to think about whether you have adequately mourned what fantasies or what dreams you had for yourself for the future. If you've done that, then the question is, How would I want to be more sexual? What is it that I want? What is it I imagine my sex life looking like?"