A study has found that a “significant number” of teens who were born with HIV are not disclosing their status to their partners. For some, it was because they did not know their status, but others knew and did not tell their partners. This study focused only on teens who were infected before birth, so it does not contain information on teens who became infected through sexual activity. Thankfully, many of the teens who did know their status practiced safer sex by using a condom, but not all of them did.
Not telling your partner not only puts them at risk, but you as well; most states have criminal statutes making it a criminal offense to not disclose HIV status to partners. In Florida, “It is unlawful for any person, knowing him/herself to be HIV positive and knowing the risk of transmission through sexual intercourse, to have intercourse without informing his/her partner of his/her HIV status and receiving consent.”(You can find the full list of state laws here.) This makes it even more important to have the HIV talk with your partner.
If you have HIV and your partner does not, you should know that while there is always a risk of passing on the infection but you can take action to reduce the risk. Aids.gov nails it:
“If you are the HIV-positive partner in a mixed-status relationship, you can lower the risk of transmitting HIV to your partner if you are on anti-retroviral therapy. Taking all your medications, on time, will help to lower the viral load in your body fluids and decrease the chance that you will transmit HIV to your partner. But remember, even if you have a low viral load, you can still transmit HIV to your sex partner. So it is important to always use a condom and practice safer sex. And, if you inject drugs, never share syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment with others since HIV-infected blood can be transmitted through them.
If you are the HIV-negative partner in a mixed-status relationship, talk with your partner about condoms and safer sex practices. If you are in an ongoing relationship with your partner, support him/her in taking all of his/her HIV medications at the right times. This “medication adherence” will lower his/her viral load and reduce the risk that HIV can be transmitted. You may also want to stay up-to-date on developments about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Though researchers are not recommending PrEP be immediately used to prevent HIV infection, recent research findings suggest this may someday be another prevention method to be used with – not instead of – condoms, safer sex practices and other HIV prevention methods.”
The article I linked to above notes that most HIV-related sex education focuses on avoiding infection rather than living with the infection, which is an excellent point. Luckily there are organizations out there with good advice on how to talk to partners and family. When you’re ready to have the talk, try HIV.va.gov’s tips for telling your partners and Womenshealth.gov’s advice on telling people you are HIV positive. Make sure you talk to a case manager or counselor first if you are telling a partner and there is a history of violence or abuse in your relationship.
If you’ve contracted HIV, it’s important to talk to your sexual partner(s) about it. It’s not an easy conversation to have but it’s one that will help keep your partner(s) safe and alert to their status.