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Finding love is inherently difficult for almost anybody. But for South African native Mary, simple dating carried potentially disastrous consequences. Mary was HIV-positive and was plagued with issues of revealing her HIV infection to a prospective partner -- planning for a long-term relationship when she does not know what the next day holds, and keeping a partner safe from her virus.

Mary immediately signed up, and after a few months, had gotten to know two men who were in the "same situation" as her, one from the United Kingdom and the other from South Africa. Mary's story is just one of many that Ben Sassman, founder of The Positive Connection, hears everyday. Sassman is one of the few who dares to concern himself with the "living" part of living with HIV, and saw the need for an online dating opportunity for HIV-positive patients. In an effort to help an old friend who was in the same predicament as Mary, Sassman self-funded his own online dating service.

Since its start in , Sassman's friend, Mary and thousands of other HIV-infected people were able to find love through his website. But instead of focusing on the physical effects of his illness, Sassman's friend began to describe the difficulties of dating women as an HIV patient. He often felt morally obligated to immediately inform each potential date that he was infected with HIV -- almost guaranteeing a rejection for a second date. In trying to remedy his friend's dating dilemma, Sassman suggested that his friend find someone through an online dating service.

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Mary says the purpose of her visit to Sassman's site was "to get somebody who was in the same situation as me. According to Sassman, about 66 percent of Positive Connection singles are from South Africa but the site is quickly growing to an international level. About members are from the United States. Sassman acknowledges he "had no idea" the site would be such a success.

Sassman, a South African citizen, had studied in the U. David Patient, one of the longest-documented survivors of HIV infection, feels the solution to the problem of stigmatization and representation of HIV-infected people needs to be initiated at the grass roots level within South Africa.

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Maybe at some point, we will turn our wishbone mindset into a back bone of action. While the site serves to connect and validate a stigmatized community, its success also exposes the growing population of South Africans infected with HIV. Today, Sassman is having trouble funding The Positive Connection. Advertisers seem reluctant to collaborate with Sassman, necessitating that he support the site with his own earnings.

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