Q&A: How And When Do I Tell People I'm HIV Positive

Q: I’ve just started dating again, and am HIV positive. How, and when, should I go about letting people know my health status?

A: First, Congratulations on dating again.  Disclosing your HIV status is a sensitive issue.  Because it is a disease that can be sexually transmitted, it is not the same as having a hypertension or asthma diagnosis.  Unfortunately, because of the stigma associated with HIV infection, you have to exercise discretion in divulging your status.  My suggestion is that it be done on a need-to-know basis.  If you are just getting to know someone, it may not be necessary to tell them right away if you are not sexually involved.  It’s good to get to know them a little better and get a sense for how they might respond to receiving such information.  If you tell someone who you do not intend to be intimate with, they could use the information to harm you.  I’ve seen that happen with a few patients over the years.  You should know that both male condoms and female condoms are very effective in protecting against HIV transmission when they are used properly.  Some people are uncomfortable dating a person who is seropositive and letting them know right off the bat could frighten them away.  However, that same person may have a totally different response if they are given time to get to know you and you decide later to have a sexual relationship.

If things somehow get on the fast track and you end up having sex before you are comfortable divulging your status, be sure to use condoms so that you are at least protecting that person, as well as yourself.  If you need help in disclosing your status to a potential partner, ask your doctor or nurse, but also consider discussing this topic with a counselor or social worker. This is just my view and I suggest you discuss it with other professionals.  But HIV+ individuals can have very healthy and exciting sexual lives.  A lot of new studies have some very encouraging results about sex when one partner is positive and the other is negative.