Positives Dating is among a growing number of Internet dating sites catering to those living with the virus. Some also appeal to those with other incurable, sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes. Over 1 million Americans are infected with HIV. A way to help them find companionship without being judged seemed like a novel idea, said Paul Graves and Brandon Koechlin, who launched www.positivesdating.com from their Hilliard apartment in January. "A lot of people afflicted with HIV become social outcasts," said Koechlin, who conceived the Web site a year ago during a class at Columbus State Community College that addressed the social stigma of AIDS.
Such an outlet provides a valuable tool for HIV-positive people, said Aaron
Riley, executive director of the Columbus AIDS Task Force. "When you think
about all the discrimination, fear and stigma, they feel isolated just by virtue of
having the disease," he said. "They know these people (on the site) will not reject
them if they have HIV."
Penn, a divorced father, would like to marry again. He contracted HIV, he
said, from a girlfriend; he informed a later girlfriend, who told acquaintances —
ending their relationship, along with some of his friendships. In a short time,
Positives Dating has attracted a few members in Ohio. Most hail from Los Angeles, Miami and New York — and also
from as far away as Canada, European countries, India and Uganda. The membership is diverse, encompassing men
and women both gay and straight, of ages 25 to 70 and from several ethnic backgrounds. Neither of the site operators
— 20-year-old roommates who met at Thomas Worthington High School — has the virus. Graves did have an
uncle who died of an AIDS-related illness 10 years ago. "It isn’t just about making money," he said. "It benefits
society in a huge way. We want to be the best communication tool for the HIV community. We want to be their Match.com."
The site doesn’t yet require a fee, but, starting in May, users will be
charged $10 a month to use certain features.
Graves monitors the free profiles, to which a code of conduct — no profanity or abusive language — applies. The
posting of photographs is optional; nudity isn’t allowed. Some participants simply exchange pictures; others seek
long-term or casual relationships, or guidance on HIV management. And some include medical histories.
"Knowing there is somebody else out there who is similar and can share tips
helps," said Riley, of the task force.
"When family rejects them, here is where they can find solace." He worries, however, that some infected people might
not practice safe sex with others like them. Condom use among HIV positive couples is encouraged, Riley said, because
cross-infections could jeopardize their health.
Positives Dating is among the classiest of the Web sites that reach the HIV
community, said member Michelle, 38, of
Los Angeles. "The early ones drew people who were desperate and thought this was the end of the road and no one
would love them again," said the legal assistant, who asked that her last name not be used. "This Web site is definitely
good because more people are willing to put their face out there."
She prefers HIV-positive partners, she said, because she enjoys sex without
condoms and views the chance of
cross-infections as remote. "We could help one another go through this process together," she said, "and don’t have to
explain it." ▪
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