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HIV Disclosure to Sex Partners

Disclosing your HIV status to sex partners can be emotionally difficult, but it’s a challenge that’s not going to disappear. Disclosing could lead to better intimacy in your relationship. And if you avoid telling someone you have HIV and have sex anyway, you could be charged with a criminal offense. That’s harsh, but real.

Sex, HIV, and the Law

If you are thinking about having sex with someone who doesn’t know your HIV status, you need to figure out when to disclose. It’s more than telling them about their risks of HIV- it’s the law. In Canada, you may face criminal charges if you don’t tell your partner before you have sex. Disclosure is one way of protecting yourself. If disclosing could put you at risk of physical harm, and you need support, we can offer suggestions.

If you’re in a relationship when you find out you have HIV, tell your partner as soon as you know, and learn about HIV transmission. It’s probably a good idea for your partner to get tested for HIV too. You don’t have to give up sex or relationships, you just need to make it safer sex for you and your partner.

For more information about legal cases related to disclosure, visit the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The Emotions of Disclosure

Opening up about having HIV means a shift in your relationships and in your sex life. You may feel scared about disclosing, which is totally normal: hard, but normal. You might fear…

  • you’ll be rejected
  • your partner will accuse you of being unfaithful
  • your partner will leave you
  • your partner will not want to touch you
  • your partner will refuse to wear a condom or barrier to decrease infection risk
  • you’ll be at risk of violence
  • you’ll be cut off from money
  • you’ll be cut off from food, housing, and/or childcare
  • you’ll be cut off from drugs

These feelings have been experienced by lots of women with HIV, and they’ve gone on to have relationships. Some women disclose when they first date, figuring they would rather know right away than waste time with a person who doesn’t want to deal with HIV. Others wait a while until a solid connection is made. You can decide what works for you in terms of timing, but you should disclose before you have sex.

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