“Disclosing” is actually just sharing information. There are lots of things to think about when sharing your HIV status, trans identity, gender identity, whether you’re in a relationship, whether or not you’re on PrEP, or other important information about your life.
Finding the balance between honesty and privacy is different for everyone, and figuring out when or if you should disclose to somebody requires a lot of thought. After all, being honest about these things can sometimes lead to rejection or to discomfort. It’s up to both partners to have a conversation and ask each other about the things that matter to us. Planning an approach to disclosure can make it easier to actually do it when somebody asks you, or when you feel it’s the right time to talk about it.
Talking about an HIV-positive status can be particularly stressful when it comes to hooking up, since not everybody knows about the science of HIV transmission and sex, about undetectable viral load and treatment as prevention. There is a lot of misunderstanding out there, and while it’s up to each guy to bring up the question of HIV status during a conversation about sex, sometimes the pressure on HIV-positive guys to take the lead is unfairly heavy.
A lot of poz guys find themselves in the position of having to explain the science of HIV or helping people work through thoughts and emotions about HIV. If you’re an HIV-negative guy, learn about how HIV is transmitted, read up about undetectable viral load, and check out our resource on how to respond when someone discloses.
Some HIV-negative guys say they understand U=U because they find a particular poz guy attractive, then after they have sex with him, they want excessive reassurance from him that what they did was safe. Behaviour like this is ignorant, and can be exhausting for poz guys to deal with. If you’ve read the science but you haven’t ditched the stigma, you have more work to do before hooking up with a poz guy.
For a lot of HIV-positive guys, talking about their status gets easier with time and experience. Learning what to say, how guys might respond, and what your own limits are in terms of your time or energy takes practice.
There’s no one right way to disclose your HIV status, or anything else. But there are some questions you can ask yourself before talking to somebody about your status.
- Do I want to tell them this information? Why?
- Have I ever heard this person talk about the issue on my mind? Were they knowledgeable or understanding?
- Do I trust this person? Will they tell other people?
When it comes to sex, there are a few more specific questions to ask, particularly when it comes to HIV:
- Are we using condoms? Is he on PrEP?
- If I have an undetectable viral load, how recently have I been tested? Do I know how to explain my status?
- If he’s undetectable, have you talked about his viral load?
- Have we talked about what we’re going to do? Are we just making out, or are we gonna fuck?
In general, it’s best to be as direct and clear as possible. If somebody reacts negatively, remember that not everyone will feel that way, that you deserve credit for your strength, and that another person’s ignorance about HIV is not a reflection of your value. Give time to the person to think about what you’ve said, and remember that people’s reactions can change over time.
These days, lots of guys meet other guys online, for dating, sex, or whatever. A lot of poz guys choose to put their HIV status on their profile in advance as a way of filtering out people who might not be cool with it. There may still be a need for an in person conversation to make sure you’re on the same page.
Poz.com wrote a great and extensive guide to disclosing your HIV status.
Morning After Moments
Sometimes we feel bad or confused about the sex we’ve had in the moment or morning after it has happened. Conversations that happen after guys have had sex can be scary, especially if you didn’t talk about HIV or sexual health beforehand. You or your sex partners might be worried that somebody’s been exposed to HIV.
There are ways for an HIV-positive guy to help in this conversation, like talking to his sex partners about PEP and his viral load. A health-care provider like a doctor or nurse can help a guy decide whether PEP is right for this situation.
There are a lot of things to consider when determining if PEP is right for you. What kind of sex did you have? Did you just make out? Did you only have oral sex? Some acts have a very low risk of HIV transmission, or none at all. Read up on HIV transmission & sex to learn more.
Legalities of HIV disclosure
Some guys wonder if they’ll get into legal trouble if they don’t share their HIV status. In Ontario, you’re not legally required to disclose if there isn’t a realistic chance of HIV transmission. In 2017, Ontario Crown Prosecutor guidelines changed to say that in cases where a person living with HIV is undetectable or at least six months or uses a condom, failure to disclose does not result in criminal liability for exposure to HIV, and charges will not proceed.
On the other hand, what the law says and what might be right for your relationships can be two different things. Sometimes sex happens in cruisey, non-verbal environments where there’s an understanding of certain possibilities. Sometimes someone you thought might be a one-night stand turns into someone you want to share a deeper relationship with. Sometimes disclosure can put poz guys in danger.
Trust goes both ways, and as important as an HIV positive guy’s transparency is to a trusting relationship, HIV negative guys can do their part to build trust by making themselves safe people for HIV positive guys to open up to. They can do this by educating themselves on the science of U=U, and by avoiding perpetuating HIV stigma.
If you are interested in what legal experts are saying about this issue, HALCO has a very thorough legal guide about HIV disclosure that may be helpful. CATIE also has some useful information about HIV disclosure.
If someone is giving you a really hard time or talking about the legal implications of disclosure or non-disclosure, you should get in touch with HALCO right away.