Killer Sex: Midlife Women and HIV

1 in 3 women newly infected with HIV is age 40 or over.

By Alexis Jetter
Photograph: Todd Hido

Don’t tell that to Ann Silver. She loves sex and misses it terribly — particularly kissing. But forging new relationships, romantic or otherwise, has been a challenge since her diagnosis. Desperate for an opportunity to talk about Lola, her nickname for the virus, Silver went to Christie’s Place (christiesplace.org), a lovely Victorian house in San Diego where HIV-positive women and their children come for a wide array of social services, healthcare, computer training, and even food and a haircut when they need it. Irene, the counseling group’s no-nonsense leader, saw right through Silver’s bravado. "You need to cry," she said.

"I wanted her to be my mommy for a minute," Silver admits. She still hasn’t told her own mother that she has HIV. "I’m her baby, and she’d be so proud of how I’m handling this," Silver says. "But I’m afraid she’ll think that I’m going to die." That’s one reason why she isn’t using her real name in this story. The other is that she’s afraid of losing her job.

Silver soon gravitated to the Web, where her acidly funny blog on POZ, a magazine and Web site for HIV-positive men and women, drew raves from readers. "It was a safe place where everyone was just like me," she says. But finding a new love was hard. Two years ago, she got up the courage and responded to an ad for a "man seeking woman" on Craigslist. She confided, right away, that she had HIV; he wrote back that he wasn’t worried. They met at a bar. "He was a total roughneck, tattoos everywhere, piercings, shaved head," Silver says. "Not my typical date."

They had chemistry, though. After one drink and some light banter, Tattoo Man (Silver’s term) leaned over and kissed her. "Oh my god that felt good," Silver wrote on her blog. "I love kissing. But, more important, he was negative and kissing me. Woohoo! I’m normal again." They made out like teenagers in a parking lot (Silver says she can never go to that bar again), then promised to see each other very soon.

She wrote him the next day, but heard nothing back. Two weeks passed. Finally, after Silver fired off another e-mail, Tattoo Man responded: "Hey, sorry I haven’t gotten back to you. After you and I made out so intensely, I got really freaked out. I ended up going to Urgent Care the next day because I thought you might have given it to me."

The next time she met a good-looking man at a bar and he asked for her phone number, Silver froze. You do not want to know me, dude, she thought to herself. What I’ve got to tell you, you can’t handle.

But dating only men with HIV, as many positive women do, didn’t feel right either. Stephen*, whom she met through Christie’s Place, was handsome, sweet, and very interested. They went out a couple of times. But there was a problem that Silver just couldn’t get over. "It was so obvious he had HIV," she says, aware of how that sounds. "He took meds and had some facial wasting. I’m just not ready for that. "It turns out HIV is not a bonding agent," she adds wryly. "I wish it was, but it’s just not."

Silver hasn’t given up. "Hopefully this new year will bring love back into my life," she says. "I’m hoping the stigma associated with this virus has lost its momentum." Silver recently posted her own singles ad on Craigslist. "I am ready to rejoin the dating world," she wrote.

How to Protect Yourself

Using a latex barrier such as a condom is an extremely effective way to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus during sex, and only you can decide if it seems wise to ask your husband or partner to use one. Mary Gwynn, an HIV educator on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, uses a simple rule of thumb when she counsels women: If there’s even a little chink, a little waver in my trust, I need to back it up with some latex.

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