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Disclosing your HIV status

Telling people you have HIV is a life- long process. There can be lots to consider, so if you want to talk about it, feel free to contact us – we’ve supported lots of women in the process. You don’t have to disclose in all personal relationships, but if you don’t disclose to sex partners you could be criminally charged.

Women who have been living with HIV for years say that telling people can get easier over time, but it’s rarely easy. Telling your family and friends is different than telling a sex partner or going to a new doctor and disclosing as part of your health history. Telling your children is something different again.

Personal disclosure: family, friends, and sex partners

Learning about HIV transmission can help you understand that the chance of your friends or family getting HIV from you is extremely small. This makes disclosure your choice. The chance of transmitting HIV to sexual partners is real, particularly if you are having unprotected sex. In Canada, you may face criminal charges if you knowingly keep your HIV status from your sexual partner, especially if the sex is unprotected. Disclosing to sex partners is hard, but essential. For the most up to date information on HIV disclosure and the law, visit the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

If you are thinking about telling your children,there are some special things to consider, like the age and knowledge of your kids, what kind of support there is for them, or how much to tell them at one time.

Tips for Disclosing

When you decide to disclose your status, women have found these things worked:

  • trust your instincts: disclose when you are ready
  • think about what you’re going to say ahead of time
  • choose your time and place: don’t be rushed
  • share with people you trust
  • use your own words
  • tell two friends so that they can support each other and not lean on you
  • if someone has lots of questions, ask her to do her own research. This will ease the pressure on you to “know it all”
  • ask for what you need: a shoulder to cry on, space to think about it, practical help when you need it

Community Disclosure: your neighbours, your boss

You do not have to tell your landlord, neighbours or employer about your HIV status, especially if doing so could change your housing or employment situation. If you are being threatened with eviction or job loss because of your HIV status, contact an advocate immediately – you have rights.

If you want to talk about disclosure, we’re here to help. For more information on the legalities of disclosure, visit the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

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