Five years ago, at the age of 28, Karen Fratti was diagnosed with HIV. “The positive result almost didn’t compute at first,” Fratti began in a powerful essay for Redbook published on Tuesday, January 24. “I was in shock that simply sleeping with probably close to a hundred men throughout my 20s … and not being strict about using condoms could have such a serious consequence.”
In the piece, Fratti, now 33, reveals that as a heterosexual white woman she didn’t believe she was at risk for contracting the virus. “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 do with my life,” she admitted.
Fratti and her then-boyfriend (he is negative) split within a year of her diagnosis. “Dating with HIV, seriously or casually, is hard — even though it doesn’t have to be,” wrote the Temple University graduate. “I am HIV positive, but it is undetectable.” That means Fratti — who takes an antiretroviral drug every day— cannot transmit the virus. “But as a single heterosexual woman, I have the added challenge when dating of convincing men, who are often just as naive as I used to be, that they can be intimate with me. It feels like I have to twist someone’s arm to see past my HIV viral load. You can sleep with me, I swear! is not the greatest pick-up line, and it’s certainly not great for my self-esteem.”
This past summer, Fratti began sharing her status on dating apps right around the time when the potential suitor would suggest meeting in person. “After some polite, ‘oh, never mind, then’ responses or straight-up ghosting, I decided on my next date to wait until over drinks to disclose,” she recalled. “He ordered ordered another drink, thoughtfully, and then said, ‘Well, that’s OK, you can still go down on me, right?’ I paid the bill and left.”
She continued: “The few — very, very few — who were not as terrible were equally worthless. After a few times together, they made it clear that dating a woman with HIV seriously is nothing something they really want to get into, which is almost worse than someone not taking you out at all.”
And though Fratti sometimes pictures herself “growing old alone, loveless and sexless, feeding a cat while watching Real Housewives marathons” she refuses to wallow in self-pity. “I am so lucky to have been diagnosed now, after activists and researchers have done so much work when it comes to treatment,” she tells Us Weekly. “My medicine HAS absolutely no side effects. My birth control used to affect my body more than my HIV medication does.”
Meanwhile, Fratti hopes her story will serve as a warning for other women. “I never really worried about HIV, which just goes to show how dangerous privilege can be,” she tells Us. I knew that not using a condom wasn’t smart, but I think I felt invincible or something. It’s hard to look back now and figure out what the hell I was thinking.”
There are an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States.
Fratti is on Twitter.
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