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should I tell my sexual partners my HIV status
May 1, 2001

I am confused about disclosing my status to sexual partners. On one hand I feel obligated to protect them from getting HIV but I also feel I have the right to maintain my privacy. What do you do when a sexual partner insists on a sexual behaviour which may put them at risk? Do they not have a responsibility for their own health or is the responsibility expected to be with the person who knows thier +ve status even if it is just a casual encounter which may not develop into anything more serious. Confused

Response from Dr. Remien

You are struggling with an issue that many people struggle with. Key to this struggle is the attempt to adhere to two important principles that may be in conflict with each other. These two principles are "the duty (or obligation) to protect others" and the "right to privacy." Both are valid and honorable principles. One's HIV status, like a lot of other personal data is an intimate and personal piece of information. One should be selective with whom they share that information. At the same time, I do believe that when one knows they are HIV+ they carry a certain level of responsibility to not knowingly put a sexual partner at risk for receiving that virus. I strongly believe that both people involved in a sexual encounter must take responsibility for their actions. The responsibility should never be solely on only one member of the dyad.

So while I do not personally feel that it can be one person's responsibility to prevent someone else from taking risk I would encourage you to consider the following. Do you want to play a facilitative role (be an enabler) for other people's foolishness? How does it make you feel to go along with reckless behavior? The other piece of it, of course, is that if the other person is "putting themselves at risk," then you are being put at risk as well. You are at risk physically for contracting other sexually transmitted diseases or another strain of HIV, and you are at risk psychologically for feeling bad about what happened, after the sex is over. If you consider these issues I believe you will be able to come up with some answers for yourself that will be best for all concerned.

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