Telling Others You’re HIV-Positive
Telling others you're HIV-positive may be one of the most difficult things you ever do. There may be only one thing that's harder: the burden of carrying the secret alone. That doesn't mean you must tell everyone. Who you tell is a very personal decision. Here are some things to consider as you think about who, when, and how to tell others that you're HIV-positive.
Who Should I Tell That I'm HIV-Positive?
In general, it makes sense to tell those you trust that you're HIV-positive. Doing so may even help foster a greater sense of closeness. Think about people you've shared difficult things with in the past. You may want to start by telling a friend, a family member, or someone you know who is also HIV-positive or has been through a similar experience. These are other people you should tell:
- Your health care providers
- Your past sex or needle-sharing partners
- Your future sex partners
- A family member or trusted friend who is likely to be able to speak for you in a medical emergency.
When considering whom to tell, think about questions like these:
- Could this person harm me physically or emotionally?
- Could this person discriminate against me, putting me at risk for losing my child, job, or housing?
- Can I trust this person and are they likely to be supportive?
- What will I gain by telling this person?
Why Should I Tell People I'm HIV-Positive?
Although you may want to be cautious about whom you tell, once you're ready, there are good reasons to tell certain people that you're HIV-positive.
- You can gain emotional or practical support.
- The person who infected you may not know they're HIV-positive until you tell them.
- You can protect future sex partners, give them the ability to make informed decisions, and enhance the trust between you.
- State laws make it illegal to knowingly infect others. If you have unprotected sex without telling others, you're putting yourself at legal risk, as well as endangering the health of your partners.
- Your health care providers can ensure the best medical care for you.
How Do I Tell People I'm HIV-positive?
There is no one right way to tell others you have HIV. It's often better to do this in person and one-on-one but people have also told others in groups, by phone, or with letters. There are even public health Web sites, such as www.inSPOTLA.org, that allow people to send e-cards to people with whom they've had casual sex. If you are meeting with someone to have this conversation, choose a place that is private and feels comfortable to you, and allow plenty of time to talk.
Here are things to consider when telling the different kinds of people in your life.