I’m in an Open Relationship

Open relationships come in a variety of forms, but most rely on rules or an agreed-upon understanding. The risk of picking up or passing on HIV and other STIs depends on your behavior inside and outside the relationship. Trust and honesty remain key factors in determining the success of an open relationship, and rules work for the couple only when they are followed by both partners.

Some open relationships involve more risk than others. Whatever the scenario, all the same risk reduction strategies exist. Except this time, if one partner doesn’t follow the rules, they may be placing their partner, as well as themselves in a risky situation, especially if they are not using condoms with each other.

Things to consider: What kind of sex are you having with your partner? With others? Is your partner the same HIV status as you? Are your other partners? How do you know their status? Are you using condoms with your primary partner? With others?

Reduce Your Risk

Condoms

The best way to reduce the risk of picking up or passing on HIV is to use condoms when having anal sex, particularly with guys whose HIV status you don’t know or are unsure of or with guys whose status is not the same as yours.

When using condoms, it is a good idea to use lube. Take your time; do not rush it! Rushed or aggressive anal sex can increase the likelihood of tears and other problems.

Testing

Knowing your HIV status and that of your partner will allow you to make decisions about how to best reduce sexual risk-taking (this requires regular HIV testing).

Limit Your Partners

Another way to reduce your risk is to limit your number of partners, or establish friends-with-benefits, or regular partners who you communicate with and trust.

Semen

Sometimes guys forget that semen can be on their hands or faces. Try not to get semen in your eyes. Using someone else’s semen as lube when you masturbate can also be risky. If a finger goes in your anus, make sure it doesn’t have someone else’s semen on it.

Harm Reduction (may be less risky, but not risk-free)

Guys reduce the spread of HIV in several other ways:

  • having less risky sex (hand jobs, oral sex, etc.)
  • sero-sorting (looking for partners with the same HIV status)
  • not ejaculating inside each other (pulling out or withdrawal)
  • ensuring that both partners are free of other STIs by getting tested.

Treatment

For poz guys, proper treatment adherence (taking medication regularly) impacts viral load, which also lowers the risk of passing on HIV.

Undetectable Viral Load

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and other HIV/AIDS research institutions have found that the risk of HIV transmission for sero-different couples (one is positive, the other is negative) is very low if the HIV-positive partner is on treatment, has an undetectable viral load and is free of STIs.

I Have a Friend with Benefits

Some guys limit their sexual partners to one or two sex-friends in order to reduce their risk of picking up or passing on HIV. While reducing your number of sexual partners will reduce your risk of HIV and other STIs, there is still risk involved, since most friends-with-benefits are not exclusive. As in monogamous relationships, friends-with-benefits should know the status of their partner by getting tested for HIV before making any decisions about condom use.

The only way to be sure you are both the same HIV status is for you and your partner to get tested for HIV.