Disclosure of your HIV status can cause anxiety. Although you may feel pressured, it is good to know the facts before jumping in and disclosing in situations where it is unnecessary.
Telling your healthcare providers
You are not legally required to disclose your HIV status to any healthcare provider if you don’t want to. This includes medical examinations, surgery and dentistry.
However, it may be wise to disclose since HIV medications may interact with other medications; or the progression or treatment of other conditions may be affected by HIV infection.
Under such circumstances, failure to disclose may lead to serious consequences for your health.
Your treatment for other conditions may have to be modified to allow for the effects of HIV infection and HIV medications, and your doctor or dentist can only do this if they are fully informed.
Discuss with your regular HIV specialist whether disclosure to another practitioner is medically necessary.
Disclosing HIV status at work
Generally, you are not required to tell an employer or prospective employer that you are HIV-positive. Check out the exceptions on our HIV and employment page.
While you might need to disclose your status, you still have a duty to ensure your own safety and health, and to avoid affecting the health and safety of others in the work place.
Maintaining an undetectable viral load is one step in reducing risk. If there are accidents at work then there is a significantly reduced risk of transmission.
HIV and travel
You are subject to the local laws of the country that you are visiting, therefore it’s important to have some knowledge of local legislation with regards to HIV disclosure when travelling.
Before you plan your trip, research the country’s laws on having HIV, visas and whether you will face issues bringing medication with you.
It is illegal for HIV-positive individuals to have sex without documenting disclosure in some jurisdictions and some people living with HIV have been prosecuted without onward transmission occurring.
HIV disclosure and intimate relationships
A common concern for many people with HIV is around the disclosure of their status in an intimate relationship. It brings up questions like: When is the right time? How should I do it? Should I even disclose?
The discrimination and stigma towards people with HIV, largely driven by ignorance and lack of knowledge, is still pervasive and can cause significant anxiety around disclosure. There is a lot of justified fear and consideration about how someone will react when they find out your status.
Should you disclose? Do you have to disclose?
Under Australian law, you do not have to disclose your positive status to a sexual partner on the proviso that you “take reasonable precautions to prevent HIV transmission”.
This means that if someone has HIV and they have sex with someone, they are not legally required to disclose this information so long as they are taking steps to protect the other person.
So what constitutes a reasonable precaution? A precaution could be:
- Using a condom,
- Having an undetectable viral load.
- Seeking and getting confirmation that the other person is using PrEP.
- A combination of the above
The bonus with a condom is that it also prevents other STIs like syphilis, which we are still experiencing an outbreak of syphilis.
One of the risks with using the knowledge that the other person is using PrEP is the possibility that they aren’t telling the truth. If you have sex with someone who says they are using PrEP but actually aren’t, you could be at risk from a legal standpoint.
It’s also important to remember that even if you disclose your status, you are still legally required to take reasonable precautions to prevent transmission. Disclosure does not allow for sex without some form of protection.
When should you disclose?
Contrary to what you might think, there is no wrong or right time to say those words “I’m HIV positive.” It could be on the first date or one the fiftieth.
You can disclose when it feels right, whatever the circumstances.
To disclose one’s HIV status can be a highly complex topic. We believe no one should be pressured into making that choice’ though unfortunately “pressured” is how a lot of people often find themselves. This pressure can be both external and internal.
Whatever the case, it is wise to be prepared to be an educator and referral agent. You don’t have to be an HIV advocate or educator, but it’s likely when you disclose the person is going to have lots of questions. You may feel ready and open to answering them or you might not. Either is okay.
It can really help to arm yourself with proven research or, at least, know where to guide your partner, should they ask, to services that are available to assist with easing doubts and addressing apprehensions.
Remember, counsellors and peer support are both here for you and are able to give you that space to chat. Don’t be afraid to reach out. We are also available for the people in your life to educate and support them.
HIV/AIDS Legal Centre Inc. (HALC)
The HIV AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) is a not-for-profit, specialist community legal centre, and the only one of its kind in Australia. HALC provide free and comprehensive legal assistance regarding HIV or Hepatitis related legal matters. HALC also aim to undertake education and law reform in areas relating to HIV and Hepatitis, as well as provide legal training, education, and experience to employees and volunteers.
To find out more about HALC or to seek legal advice and assistance, please visit their webpage here.
Your status doesn’t change the person you are
Don’t allow people to suggest to you that you are any less desirable or worthwhile if you are living with HIV. You have your strengths, weaknesses, interests, quirks and the things that make you amazing. Having HIV doesn’t reduce any of the things that make you beautiful, unique and worthy of love.
You are not wasting other people’s time either. Think about it another way; you wouldn’t feel like you were “wasting time” if you had fertility issues or a chronic illness you didn’t mention on your profile or first date. HIV is just one facet of you and all of you is worth getting to know.
Many of us know that it takes much strength to fight stigma because of who we are. It can take practice to be proud. It takes strength to move past obstacles and barriers. Don’t be afraid to project that power.