Jule Winter met a nice man in Portugal in the summer of 2011, they fell in love and had unprotected sex. Eight months later came the shock: she was HIV-positive. Dem star she explains how the infection changed her life.
“Women with HIV are still talked about far too little these days. As a result, many heterosexual people don’t even think about the fact that it can happen to them. It was the same for me. I became infected when I was 26 while on vacation in Portugal .We were in love and had a very intense week together.
At some point he wanted to have sex without a condom and because I wanted to please him, I went along with it. I wasn’t strong enough to assert my needs back then. In retrospect, I realized that overall I was treated terribly. I did things that I didn’t really want to do – but I think a lot of women know that, unfortunately.
Before, outside of a relationship, I always tried to prevent it from happening to me; it was actually as likely as winning the lottery. And it wasn’t until some time later that I realized I had HIV. A few weeks after the holiday love, I suddenly felt really bad and had flu-like symptoms.
But I didn’t associate it with unprotected sex. It wasn’t until I went to donate blood eight months later that the infection came out. When the doctor called me and said I had to come back because there were abnormalities, I thought of a lot of things, but not HIV.
Between fear of death and gratitude
That was a shock for me. When I spoke to the doctor, I saw my life passing me by. It was already known back then that there were medications and that you could lead a largely normal life with the infection and that it was no longer contagious, but that hadn’t dawned on me until then. I told the doctor that I really like life, that I might want children and that I’m afraid that I won’t be able to work normally. I thought HIV was destroying my life. That was eleven years ago now. Today I know better.
Today I actually think my life with HIV is pretty cool. I was able to meet a lot of lovely people through the infection. There are HIV-positive people who deal with their fate very well, and a real community has formed as a result. Of course, there are also people with an HIV infection who don’t deal with it so calmly. It always depends on what you do with it. My father once said: ‘We all die at some point. You have now just received confirmation again by email.’
Being confronted with your own mortality clearly does something to you. Nowadays, HIV-positive people have the same life expectancy as everyone else. Some might even say higher, because we go to the doctor every three months and can therefore react more quickly to changes.
The fear of stigma
Even if this may sound strange: HIV has also given me a lot of positive things. I feel like my relationships have become much more intense and real. I am endlessly grateful for the time with the people who are important to me – and I tell them that more often than before. Overall, I feel like I’ve gotten stronger because of the infection. As an HIV-positive person, I also belong to a marginalized group and sometimes experience this through discrimination. That changes you. It made me more resilient.
Still, there are areas in my life where I don’t address the topic. For example, only two colleagues at my work know about my infection. I don’t have the courage and somehow I would feel like I was making the issue bigger than it has to be if I told the whole staff that I have HIV. It doesn’t change my personality or my work.
In my private life, however, it is important for me to talk about it openly. Many people today are still not sufficiently enlightened. Even in relationships, I often had to explain that I was not contagious due to the medication and that I lead a normal life. Even if I have sex without a condom, I can’t infect anyone. Unfortunately, many people don’t know this yet. Even children would be possible in principle. Fortunately, the topic of HIV wasn’t a problem at all for my boyfriend; I told him straight away on the first date and he already knew about the current state of knowledge.
Why many people don’t use contraception
All in all, most HIV-positive people lead normal lives, apart from the three-monthly doctor’s visits and the one pill a day. Unfortunately, many people don’t know this, which is why they still associate a certain insecurity or even fear with us. On the other hand, some heterosexuals do not pay enough attention when having sex with new sexual partners. The number of infections among heterosexuals is currently stagnating, while among men who have sex with men they fell in 2021. Far too often people still have sex without condoms, even though everyone should be aware of HIV.
In order to change that, we absolutely need more education, especially among children and young people. It would also help if more people with HIV were exposed to the public. We exist and we live with the infection. Perhaps more people would then understand that everyone has the same risk of becoming infected with HIV – regardless of their sexual orientation or relationship status. When I talk to people about my HIV disease, I always ask them: tell them, at least one person.
Monogamy does not protect against HIV
It is essential that we spread knowledge about HIV to society at large so that more people can get tested. These days, self-tests are also available at drugstores and pharmacies. There are probably some people walking around who are infected but don’t know it. If in doubt, they then infect others and so on. Nowadays, HIV is no longer fatal and can be easily treated, but it is still possible to avoid becoming infected with the virus in the first place.
This can happen to anyone; I have even met monogamous couples where one of them suddenly had HIV. They probably weren’t that monogamous. But the example shows that there is no safety without contraception. Unfortunately, far too many people still rely on their luck. I didn’t do it any differently back then. And even if the infection or chronic illness enriches my life today, if I could go back in time, I would no longer go without the condom with new sexual partners.”
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*Editor’s note: The protagonist’s name was changed at her request.
I’m Caroline, a journalist and author for 24 Hours Worlds. I specialize in health-related news and stories, bringing real-world impact to readers across the globe. With my experience in journalism and writing in both print and online formats, I strive to provide reliable information that resonates with audiences from all walks of life.