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Disclosing HIV+ Status
Aug 12, 2001

Dear Dr. Remien, This is not a question; I rather wanted to share something, which I believe, is of considerable concern for many women, who are infected with HIV. The problem is when and how to disclose our HIV+ status in a new relationship. (I am 33 y.o., HIV+ for several years). I've been thinking about this problem a lot and here is the solution I found feasible in my own situation. I started my new relationship, when the initial shock of learning about my HIV+ diagnosis has already settled in and I was looking forward to having normal life, when I met my new boyfriend. There are very few people, who know about my HIV+ status (not even my mother knows), and I intended to keep it that way for as long as I could. However, I had to tell my boyfriend about it and, having thought about it long and hard, I resorted to the following solution. I told him that prior to engaging in full sexual activities (protected, of course), both of us must take an HIV+ test. He agreed to it and his test came back as negative. I then told him that mine was positive. After that, we talked about everything a lot but the bottomline was that it has been somewhat easier for him to accept my HIV+ status that way. I realize that there was a certain degree of manipulation on my part in this situation but the outcome was that I did tell him; and the most important matter is the information itself, not the complications of morality, which, of course, come into equation regardless. My thinking is that people have different perceptions of what sexual activities are safe enough for them and indeed, some may feel upset and even betrayed by the fact that an HIV+ person shared a kiss with them without disclosing their status prior to that. I, on the other hand, do not think I must confide in a person quite at that stage. I believe that taking an HIV test together (of course, sooner rather than later) worked for me and most definitely worked for us. I regard my dealing with this issue as a 'white lie' but I also believe that I had reached my aim and saved a lot of heartache for both of us at the same time. Of course, my boyfriend was shocked and upset about my HIV+ status but he did not question the dynamics of the beginning of our relationship and, therefore, we ended up dealing with the virus itself and not with what's right or wrong. Many thanks for your time. H. from Europe

Response from Dr. Remien

Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on this issue. I know that this is an issue that many people struggle with and there are many strategies that people have developed to deal with disclosure to others, including romantic and sex partners. Clearly there is no "one way" to handle the matter. While most people would say that it is important to disclose and discuss the matter with intimate sexual partners, the matter of when and how is what most people struggle with. After all it is a very personal and intimate piece of information to share and it does take two to have the conversation. So the context for the discussion will differ, depending on the other person involved.

I felt it was important to post your story so that others can see that this is something that HIV+ people do wrestle with. While many might debate the "appropriateness" of your strategy, the bottom line is that everyone must come to terms with this issue on their own. And they need to consider strategies for themselves that take into account their personal values (morals) and the rights and respect of their partner(s), while acting in ways they believe are responsible.

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