Any relationship can be difficult but when one person is living with a life threatening disease with the social stigma that HIV still carries, many problems and issues are added to the mix.
How do you tell your partner if you just found out you have the virus? What are the various strategies that are being researched regarding preventing HIV transmission? What are the options if considering having children? What are the issues other discordant couples are dealing with?
Disclosing your HIV status to a partner is a an extremely difficult task whether it is someone you have just met or a long time partner. You may experience many fears and emotions such as guilt, embarrassment and fear of rejection. Remember that this is something the large majority of people with HIV encounter and you are not alone. Before you consider what your partners reaction is going to be, you need to make sure that you are OK and prepared for this difficult task.
Reach out to other people with HIV or a councilor.
There are many organizations, local support groups and online groups and forums where you can talk to others about how they have handled disclosing their status to a new or existing partner. Here are a few:
The Body forums
POZ I AM
Find support groups in your area
Learn all you can about HIV. Have printed material on hand to provide and suggest they do their own research.
Be prepared to discuss HIV transmission. What are the real risks? What are your options for prevention? Know the probability of infection and how to prevent it and what is safe and what is not. This may be a conversation that could take place later or your partner may want to know what their risk is right away.
Decide on the right time and place. Make sure you pick a location that feels safe and comfortable for you both. Try to choose a time when you are both in a good mood.
Next think about what you are going to say. Plan out how the conversation may go. What may your partners reactions be? How will you handle each type of response? Your delivery can influence his/her acceptance of and reaction to, what you say. If you're calm and collected they may be, too. If you act like it's the end of the world, they might agree that it is.
Allow a conversation to take place, rather than doing all of the talking yourself. Encourage him/her to ask questions so you can know what they are thinking and feeling.
After you've said what you need, be aware that you will not be able to control his/her reaction. That's why your delivery is so important — try to influence how they hear what you're telling them. He/she might need time to themself at first. Be prepared that you may not get a 'yes' or 'no' answer immediately. They might want to break up right then and there or they might handle the news well. Whatever their reaction, know that they have a right to their feelings and to the time needed to sort them out. It took you time to let the news of your HIV status sink in, your partner may as well.
If they do not react well don't take their reaction completely personal. It is not just about you or you and he/she but about HIV. It is a lot to take in and they are going need time to adjust.
Your partner may assume the worst and may blame you for possibly spreading the disease. It is important that you discuss these feelings with each other in an open and honest way, perhaps with a licensed counselor.
Be prepared for possible rejection. Understand that not everyone is willing to deal with the risk of transmission, stigma and/or being in a relationship with someone who may get sick. Remember that there are lots people out there and many, many people will easily look past your HIV status.
Urge them to get tested. 25% of people with HIV are unaware of their status. This is to protect you as well. If you continue the relationship and down the line they test positive, you may be setting yourself up for a lot of emotions and guilt when they may already be HIV positive.
If your partner has a history of violence it may be better to have someone there when you tell them. A friend, a councilor or a doctor can provide you the safety and support you may need to make disclosing your HIV status easier.
If you are considering having sex with someone and not disclosing your HIV status you need to be aware that in doing so you may be breaking the law and could face severe penlites including prison time. In many countries including the United States, the UK and 13 countries in West and Central Africa, not disclosing your HIV status to someone you have sex with is a criminal offense. You are legally required to disclose your status to sexual partners. The charges and penalties vary from country to country and state/providence, but non-disclosure ranges from various classes of misdemeanors to different degrees of felonies, "including attempted murder, some carrying prison sentences. You may even be charged with manslaughter or murder if you pass the virus onto someone and they die.
To protect yourself, you may consider making a statement with your partner present in front of a third party that clearly acknowledges that they are fully aware of your status. It will always come down to one persons word against another so it is helpful to have a third party involved. Most likely you will never actually need to prove that you told someone of your status but just in case, it is good to cover the bases.
For U.S. state by state laws