Want to Know Your Casual Sex Partner's HIV Status? Just Ask
I was recently asked to record a podcast discussing the responsibility of disclosure. To be exact, I was asked whether it is the responsibility of someone who is HIV positive to disclose during a one-night stand.
It's easy to quickly form an opinion about this, especially if you are not HIV positive or living in the world of hookups. So, I posted the exact question on social media to gauge my friends, curious as to what they would say. Immediately, the married, straight women contingency proudly posted that, yes, HIV-positive people should 100% always disclose. I respectfully chuckled as I read those responses, one after another. Of course, to an outsider, that would be the logical answer, and I can't fault them for that.
I started the podcast by posing this question to the questioner: "When you have a hookup or one-night stand, do you ask about HIV status before engaging in sex?"
There was a moment of silence, and then they responded, "No."
I was making the point that each person is responsible for their own body; you shouldn't expect the other person to ask or disclose if you aren't going to ask.
Why should it be the responsibility of only one individual engaging in sex to speak up, solely because they are HIV positive? If you gasped at that question, it's totally understandable, but take a moment to think more about it.
If someone takes the opportunity to ask about HIV status before engaging in sex, they absolutely deserve an honest answer. But, if they don't take that opportunity or time, why is it the responsibility of the other party to do so by disclosing? It's an uncomfortable question to ask, especially in the bedroom, moments before sex. Now imagine, if possible, how it would feel for someone who is HIV positive to bring it up in that same bedroom.
Full personal disclosure (and I feel it's important to state this, because I would like to encourage others who are HIV positive): Personally, I do my best to make it a habit to disclose prior to meeting my temporary partner. For me, it makes things easier and keeps me out of awkward situations. That being said, of course I've been in situations where the question wasn't asked until afterwards, and honestly, that's the worst situation to be in as someone who is positive.
It's highly possible that my lenient standards of disclosure are the way they are because of what it means to be undetectable.
Thankfully, we live in a world where undetectable means uninfectious. That coveted status, which is typically easily attained with adherence to medication, keeps someone who is HIV positive from transmitting the virus. That is now paired with the knowledge and existence of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): Two forms of protection that are highly available to those most at risk (and I say that living in a major city and mostly engaging sexually with those living in major cities).
Also, it's much, much safer to sleep with someone who is HIV positive and undetectable than with someone who isn't. More gasps? Here's the logic:
Anyone can say they are HIV negative, and that might come from pure ignorance of their actual status, not knowing they seroconverted since their last checkup or a flat-out fabrication. People who are HIV positive and undetectable know their status, are on medication and are visiting their doctors on a regular basis to ensure they maintain that undetectable status; thus, they will not be able to transmit HIV under any circumstances.
In a perfect world, when hooking up, discussion of HIV wouldn't be something easily overlooked; instead, it would just be standard practice, something we wouldn't even think twice about bringing up with our partners. But the reality of the world we live in doesn't make that fully possible for everyone ... just yet.
So, before getting offended by someone not disclosing their HIV status, ask yourself whether you took the few seconds to ask them. It's your body; it's your responsibility. Although it's easy to place the blame on the other party, in the end, it's up to both parties to ask and start the conversation. We need to stop living in an existence where HIV is stigmatized and shamed. HIV is part of your reality, no matter who you are, and in the end, those of you who are not HIV positive should be encouraging disclosure from those of us who are -- by simply asking.