November 2, 2018 at 11:22 am EDT | by Michael Radkowsky
Serodiscordant gay couple at odds over barebacking
serodiscordant gay couple, gay news, Washington Blade

A partner’s wanting to use a condom means that he wants to be close to you, while protecting himself against contracting a virus.



My boyfriend won’t bottom for me without a condom because he’s afraid of contracting HIV from me.


I’m HIV-positive but undetectable. So that’s already lowering the risk of transmission about 97 percent, my doctor told me. But Timothy says he doesn’t want to take a risk of getting HIV, no matter how small.


When he makes me put on a condom before I top him, I feel like he’s telling me I’m dirty.  Like he has to have a barrier between us and can’t let himself be close to me.


I already don’t like condoms but his insistence makes it difficult for me to keep an erection because I feel like he doesn’t really want me.


I’ve asked Timothy to go on PrEP, which I know would further reduce the risk of transmission to practically nil, but he won’t do it. He says he doesn’t want to take a medication that has side effects when we could just as well use a condom. 


My understanding is that risk of major side effects from PrEP is miniscule, but Timothy says he doesn’t want to take chances for no good reason. Isn’t my own comfort and feeling of connection a good reason?


I did the right thing by telling Timothy up front that I was HIV-positive and it’s come back to bite me. I almost wish I hadn’t. It’s ruining our sex life. He’s really paranoid about transmission and won’t listen to facts or reason to calm down.


I’m thinking he has obsessive-compulsive disorder or something, given how uptight and unreasonable he is. Or am I the one who is crazy for thinking that we shouldn’t have to bother with condoms if they are a turnoff to me and he could take a pill instead?

Michael replies:

Whether you stay with Timothy or not, I urge you to rethink your view that a partner’s wanting to use a condom means he thinks you are dirty. A partner’s wanting to use a condom means that he wants to be close to you, while protecting himself against contracting a virus. 

If Timothy doesn’t want to take the risk of contracting HIV, no matter how small, that’s his decision to make. Ditto for his not wanting to risk experiencing side effects from PrEP. This isn’t your call.

If you don’t want to use condoms and you want to have intercourse with your partner, find another partner. Timothy is not your guy. Unless, of course, you’d rather be with him than have bareback sex.

I wonder why you are with Timothy or he with you? You give no description of anything in your relationship that would help me understand why you chose him and want to be with him. Right now your relationship sounds like it’s being overwhelmed by your trying to get him to do what you want and him resisting. 

The two of you are in a classic power-control struggle. You’re on the power side, attempting to influence Timothy’s behavior, and he is on the control side, blocking your influence.

I’m guessing there are other areas where the two of you are engaged in this dynamic. It’s not likely limited to sex. In any case, struggles like this are demoralizing and pointless. We can’t expect to have a decent relationship if we are trying to make our partner do what we want against his will. Whether the other person digs in or gives in, he’s bound to be resentful.

That doesn’t mean we can’t ask for what we want. We just can’t assume we’re entitled to our preferred outcome. And when we’re the one being asked to do something, it’s a good idea to be open to our partner’s request, unless we have a good reason to say no. Anger or spite are not good reasons. 

You are not alone. All relationships are made up of two people who are different in important ways. Every couple has to figure out how to deal with wanting very different outcomes on important issues and being disappointed from time to time. Neither of you will always get your way. 

If there is anything worthwhile in your relationship, I hope that your stopping this dynamic will allow room to enjoy being with each other.

Regarding your fantasy that you should not have told Timothy your status: Lying to bypass the challenges of being honest is a sign of immaturity and entitlement — two qualities not conducive to healthy intimate partnership. If you were to have made a move like that, you would have given Timothy no reason to trust you with his wellbeing. 

You had the integrity to be honest with your boyfriend. Sometimes behaving with integrity has consequences we don’t like. That’s life.


Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to

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