An ethics of intimacy: Online dating, viral-sociality and living with HIV
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There has been considerable academic interest in how people living with HIV use the internet for online dating and sex seeking. Most of this work has focused on the relationship between internet use and the risk of viral transmission. Drawing on an analysis of HIV dating websites and interviews with women living with HIV, this article moves beyond this and connects the use of dating websites with the changing dynamics of what constitutes a ‘normal’ life with HIV in the ‘post-AIDS’ era. The use of these websites is situated within a broader ethics of intimacy in which people living with HIV are told they are able to develop ‘normal’ sexual/romantic relationships, yet their right to do so is contingent on them pro-actively protecting others from infection. The disclosure of an HIV-positive status and the selection of HIV-positive partners are explored as key mechanisms for preventing the spread of the virus while enabling people ‘living with HIV’ to form intimate relations, ‘sharing the virus’ in other ways – practices conceptualised here as ‘viral-sociality’. Throughout the discussion attention is drawn to how sexual relations, clinical encounters and HIV-related criminal prosecutions intersect in this field, such that the most private aspects of ‘living with’ the virus can at the same time be the most public.
Keywordsinternet dating HIV intimacy disclosure ethics
I thank all the participants who took part in the research, the health-care practitioners who provided support and assistance, especially Dr Jane Anderson, and the community groups and content providers (Avert, Body & Soul, i-Base, NAM, Positive East, The Terrence Higgins Trust and The Rain Trust) who took part in interviews and/or hosted focus groups. Without your contribution this work would not have been possible. I also thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive input and the many people who provided feedback on earlier versions of the article: Andy Byford, Noortje Marres, Chrysanthi Papoutsi, Sara Paparini, Marsha Rosengarten, Nick Shapiro and Steve Woolgar. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support that was provided by the EPSRC Privacy Value Networks Project (EP/G002606/1).
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