The Positive Side

Fall/Winter 2005 

Sexual Healing: Interview with Liz Welkert

Interview by Darien Taylor


Diagnosed with HIV in 1994

My sex drive is non-existent. The thought doesn’t even enter my mind. Nothing really turns me on. And it’s getting progressively worse.

I’ve been in a relationship since 1997 and my sex drive was great for the first two years or so, but then it slowly decreased. So I went on testosterone shots, which worked for six months. But then my sex drive was down to almost nothing, so I stopped the shots because why take them if nothing’s going to happen?

Now I’m off all meds as we try to figure out what I’m resistant to. I’m hoping that my sex drive will come back with my next HIV regimen. Who knows, maybe new drugs will have different side effects than the ones I was on. I just hope I don’t have to go back on testosterone and start plucking hairs out of my chin.

What do you think is the cause of this problem?

There’s a lot of stress. Also, I’ve been on so many meds and there are side effects. How can you be sexual when you’re afraid you’re going to have diarrhea? To some degree, mentally, I shut off that part of me.

Even though my partner is understanding, things become tense and we don’t talk for a while — certainly not about the issue — and then we forget about it. I think that’s part of the problem, along with the meds, side effects and stress — it’s a combination of everything. It could also have to do with age. Is it menopausal? We don’t know. There isn’t much research on women with HIV who are my age. Why? Why can I not have sexual feelings?

You would like to?

Um hmmm! My partner is very handsome and I certainly wouldn’t want to lose him to someone who’s more sexual than I am. He can tell me he loves me with all his heart, but if there’s no sex, the fear of him finding it somewhere else is great. That’s a fear I live with every day.

I think about sex sometimes during the day — “Tonight I’m going to make a nice dinner and put candles on the table” — and by the time I get home, that thought is gone. Then the next day I’ll think, “Why didn’t I do that?” I can’t really answer myself. I feel like I’ve let him down, but I also feel that I can’t give him something I’m not ready to do. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to him to lie and pretend to be in the mood.

Was there a time in your life when you had a sex drive?

Yes, before I became positive. My ex-husband gave HIV to me, and his words still haunt me: “Nobody will ever touch you again.” That made me feel dirty. As hard as I try to think that I’m not a dirty person, those words keep coming back.

Is there a fear of infecting your partner?

Yes, even with using condoms that fear is still there. It’s not rational. That may be another reason I’m not feeling sexual.

Are condoms an issue for you?

There are condoms in our drawer all the time. When we do have intercourse, we always use a condom. But intercourse happens maybe one out of every four times that we have sex. Let’s say, for instance, we had sex yesterday, which we didn’t — it could be another six weeks before we have it again.

Does your partner ever get frustrated?

Very frustrated. We’ll each be at our computers, and he’ll say, “Are you in the mood?” and I’ll say, “Not really. Why don’t you just go ahead and surf [on pornography websites]?” I think part of him can’t accept the fact that it doesn’t bother me.

I go to bed at night and think, “Why didn’t I say yes to him?” But then I wouldn’t be truthful to myself. It’s taken me 50 years to be true to me, and that’s hard for me to change now. I have to do what makes me feel good inside and not always worry about what makes other people feel good.

Does your partner ever feel insecure, like you’re not attracted to him?

No. I don’t think that’s ever crossed his mind. I sometimes feel that I’m not attractive, because of my belly (from lipodystrophy, plus I’ve stopped exercising) and a huge scar on one of the cheeks on my backside from surgery. That surgery was because my ex-husband raped me, so that still plays in my mind. If I could chop off that scar, I would, just to feel a little more attractive. I hate it and it puts a damper on me feeling sexy because I know it’s there. If I’m naked and I turn around, I think, “Oh, no, he’s seeing the scar.” And it’ll never go away, so that will always be with me.

What have you done to deal with the problems related to your sex drive and to some of the issues around things that happened to you sexually?

Not really a whole lot. I wouldn’t know where to go or who to turn to.

Have you talked to your doctor about any of this?

Yes. I’ve told him that my partner wants sex and I’m not in the mood and my partner doesn’t understand why. He thinks my partner is being insensitive.

Have you thought about seeing a sex therapist, either with or without your partner?

I don’t know if I want to go to a sex therapist. I was sexually abused as a child for 10 years, and I don’t want to go back to those memories. It’s not easy to talk to someone I don’t know, particularly a man. I’m afraid of exposing myself and these parts of my life to someone else. I’m afraid of being judged. I’m afraid that memories and feelings might come out in the course of therapy that would ruin my relationship with my partner.

I don’t want to draw my partner into the conversation for fear of embarrassing him. It’s my issue. I know because he’s my partner it’s also his issue, but we’ve never really discussed it. All I can say to him is, “Honey, I don’t understand it. I can’t explain why I’m feeling this way.” And I really can’t.

Have you ever watched porn together or used sex toys or tried anything like that?

Yes, everything. Seeing pornographic pictures on the computer helps me fantasize but it doesn’t make me want to have sex with my partner.

Is there a part of him that’s afraid because you have HIV?

Yes. I know he’s afraid. We’ve tried Saran Wrap, we’ve cut the condom in half, but I think there’s such a fear of becoming infected that he’s not letting himself enjoy that part.

I don’t know if I’m in a rut, I don’t know if this is part of what we HIV positive women go through. I’m hoping to hear from other people that I’m not the only one having these problems. I feel like I am the only one because I have no one to talk to about it. I wish I had a girlfriend I could sit down with and say, “I just can’t. Is there anything wrong with me?”

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