It is important that you have people who you can talk with about being HIV positive, but it is a good idea to keep some control over where that information goes. Unfortunately, there is still ignorance about and stigma attached to HIV infection, so you may be concerned about how people will react. Many people find that family, close friends and partners are very supportive and understanding. When you are thinking about whom to talk to, it may be helpful to consider the following questions:
- Can I trust this person with this information?
- Will they offer me support?
- Are they likely to judge me?
- Will they respect my privacy?
You may find it useful to discuss these issues with a counsellor or social worker. If you are in a relationship with an HIV negative partner(s) who does not know you are positive, you will need to discuss and practice safe sex with them. Public health law in Victoria does not specifically require an HIV-positive person to disclose his/her HIV status before having sex. The law states a person must not knowingly or recklessly infect another person with an infectious disease, so it is your responsibility to protect your partner from infection and yourself from STIs.
It is up to you to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure, and if or when you will tell your partner(s). It is difficult to disclose and the longer you leave it, the harder and more complex it may be. However, it is better if you have your partner’s support and understanding to help you to live with HIV. You may be afraid that your partner(s) will be angry, accusing or judgmental. It may help to know that almost all of the women who took part in recent Australian research and were currently in relationships had disclosed to their partner. The majority of these women reported that their partners were very supportive, or that their HIV positive status “didn’t make a difference” to how their partner felt about them. Your partner(s) may certainly be scared or confused. You might be scared that he or she will leave you. It can be as big a shock to your partner(s) as it was for you, to learn that you are HIV positive. It is often helpful to have a doctor or HIV counsellor available to support you and answer questions when you tell people close to you. Your partner(s) may need to consider having a HIV test. You will probably find that your partner(s) can come to terms with you being HIV positive and, in fact, it may strengthen your relationship.
For information specifically written for partners, friends and family of people living with HIV, click here.