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Disclosure 101

Dr. David: Here’s a question. I’m scared to tell my partner that I am HIV positive. What should I do?
Dr. Demetre: You have some questions? We know HIV.
Dr. David: I’m a doctor. I’m trained for this.
Dr. Leandro: We’re gonna give you what you need.
Dr. David: This is a tricky one because it hits on both personal and legal considerations. On the personal front my role as a provider would be to ask you why are you scared. Are you scared of rejection? Are you scared of violence? Are you scared he or she is going to turn away? Those are serious considerations and so what you may want to evaluate is whether you can actually tell this person. From a legal standpoint there are many states in this country that actually criminalize the issue of disclosure of HIV. What that means is if you are living with HIV and you do not tell your partner that you are HIV positive before engaging in any kind of sexual act with them, and that includes oral sex, you could be prosecuted. Check out where you live, check your HIV criminalization laws in your state and find out what the ramifications could be. But as a general rule with someone you’re serious with, with someone that you really care about and that you love, you do want to tell them about your HIV status because it’s going to be an important part. And sometimes we get driven by the fear of like, what could happen. Try to flip that on its end and think about what could be the positive things. This could kind of open up a whole conversation. And you may not know that person that you’re dating maybe positive as well and just as scared to tell you. So open up the lines of communication and then go from there.

Choosing when, where, and with whom to share your status is a personal decision. Building a support system of trusted friends and family members who know your HIV status may help you deal with an HIV diagnosis. That’s why expert Dr. David is here to help walk you through what to consider once the time is right.

Some things to consider before disclosing your HIV status:

  • What kind of relationship do you have?
  • What are the possible consequences of telling them that you have HIV?
  • Will telling them be a safe experience?
  • What is that person’s attitude and knowledge about HIV?
  • Is there information about HIV you can share that may be helpful?
  • Are there particular issues a person might have that will affect how much he or she can support you?

A number of states have laws that require people with HIV to disclose their HIV status in advance to their sexual partners, regardless of what kind of sex they have, or whether or not they use condoms or are on treatment. If the person with HIV cannot prove they disclosed to their sexual partner, they could be subject to criminal prosecution.

There is no evidence such laws slow HIV transmission and a growing body of research that indicates these laws may do the opposite, harming public health by discouraging HIV testing and increasing stigma. Public health and legal professionals, as well as HIV organizations and advocates, are working to repeal or modernize these statutes to reflect contemporary science. For more information, check out the Sero Project.

Once you have decided to disclose your HIV status to someone, set up a time to talk in a private setting. Prepare yourself for the type of reaction the person you are disclosing to might have so that you have thought about how you want to respond. Make a list of questions you think the person you are disclosing to might have and use resources on Greater Than HIV to find the answers, or print out the pages and bring them with you.

Some points to emphasize right away if you are disclosing your HIV status to family or friends who may not be as informed about HIV:

  • HIV is not a death sentence. With antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, you can live a normal, healthy lifespan.
  • HIV is not spread through casual contact.
  • Express how you are feeling and what support you may need.
  • When sharing with a potential sex partner that you have HIV, be prepared for them to have questions and they may need some time to absorb what it means.

Some points to emphasize right away if you are disclosing your HIV status to a potential sex partner:

  • You are sharing this information with them because you trust them.
  • You understand they may have questions.

In addition to condoms, there are treatment options today that are very effective in reducing the chances of passing HIV between sexual partners.



#AskTheHIVDoc is a video series from Greater Than HIV featuring top HIV doctors providing answers to commonly-asked questions about HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

This information is shared for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The views expressed are those of the featured medical professional and reflect information available to that professional at time of filming. Always consult a health care provider for any personal health decision.

While we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information reflects the most up-to-date research. Also, please note the views expressed by individuals who appear in Greater Than HIV videos and other content are their own and are not made on behalf of any groups/organizations/associations.