News / Vancouver

Nearly half of women with HIV in Canada not dating: SFU study

A study led by a Simon Fraser University research group has revealed high rates of sexual inactivity among women living with HIV in Canada.

Allison Carter, a PhD student in health sciences at SFU, is studying how the relationship patterns of HIV-positive women are connected to positive aspects of sexual wellbeing, like pleasure and love.

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Allison Carter, a PhD student in health sciences at SFU, is studying how the relationship patterns of HIV-positive women are connected to positive aspects of sexual wellbeing, like pleasure and love.

Despite the fact that successful treatment can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission, nearly half of women living with HIV in Canada say they are not in a relationship.

That’s one of the findings of a study led by a Simon Fraser University research group that has revealed high rates of sexual inactivity and dissatisfaction among women living with HIV in Canada.

Allison Carter, a PhD student in health sciences at SFU, wants to change that.

“We’ve done a great job of using medicine and education to prevent HIV, and now we really have to teach people about how you can love someone with HIV," she told Metro. “The main message from our research is that HIV-positive Canadian women can and do enjoy meaningful intimate relationships and healthy sexuality after HIV."

Along with a team of researchers at SFU, Carter is carrying out research for her PhD thesis that she hopes will work to normalize sex and intimacy for women living with HIV.

The team is using survey data collected from the Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort, or CHIWOS, which is following 1,425 women in Canada living with HIV over time— the largest study of its kind in the world.

Using the data to characterize the women's romantic relationships, the researchers are then examining how the relationship patterns of HIV-positive women are connected to positive aspects of sexual wellbeing, like pleasure and love.

Although the study is still ongoing, Carter said early results indicate that nearly half of women living with HIV in Canada are not in a relationship. Women who experience a high level of HIV-related stigma are also less likely to be sexually active, she added.

Still, she said, 22 per cent report that they are in a long-term happy and loving sexually-active relationship that is characterized by high physical intimacy and high emotional closeness.

While that number is “something to be celebrated,” Carter said the social stigma and “continued fear of people with HIV” overshadows medical advances made in HIV/AIDS treatment.

“That has serious repercussions when it comes to achieving a romantic relationship and a healthy active sex life,” she said.

As part of the study, Carter and the team are also building a website, lifeandloveafterhiv.ca, to share their research and help educate the public about sex and intimacy for women living with HIV. The website is expected to go live later this year.

“HIV is a chronic disease now,” she said. “You can live a long and normal life with HIV, but living that normality is contingent on a number of things … including removing the stigma.”