For many people living with HIV, particularly when they have just been diagnosed, whether and how to share their status with other people can be a big concern.
Sharing the news of your status with your partner, a close friend or family member and talking about your feelings can be really helpful, and your friends and family may be a good source of support. However, it is up to you to decide who you tell and you should never feel pressured into doing this.
Unfortunately, in many communities, especially our LGBTQ community, there is a stigma attached to HIV. It may be that some of the people you know do not understand what it means to be living with HIV. They may not understand how it is passed on, be afraid or judgmental. This means you may get some negative reactions.
It’s up to you to decide who you tell. You may decide you want to be completely open about your HIV status, or you may decide only to tell a small number of people close to you; it’s your choice. You might find it helpful to tell some people, especially those you trust and you know care for you.
You could start with a close friend or family member. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or have been living with HIV for a while, talking about your status can help you get the emotional and practical support you need.
Sharing your HIV status should always be your decision. You should never feel pressured into it. Ultimately, your HIV status is your private information and it is down to you to choose whether to share your status and with who.
Some people find it easy to tell others that they have HIV, while others may find it very difficult and emotional. You may feel fearful, embarrassed, excited or relieved. Whatever you feel is OK. Remember that you don’t have anything to apologise for simply because you are living with HIV.
Many people find that it gets easier once they begin to tell others, especially if the people they tell are able to offer support. However, you cannot be sure how each person will react to your news and what impact it might have on you.
If you have only recently found out you are living with HIV, it might be a good idea to understand your HIV status and get used to how you feel before you tell many people. It can be helpful to think about what kind of reaction you might expect from someone you are considering telling.
Do you think they will be calm and supportive? Are they likely to get upset and worried for you? Is there a chance they could be angry or even violent?
Because HIV can be passed on during sex, telling someone who is a current or previous sexual partner can be particularly difficult and emotional. But the process of deciding how and when to tell a partner involves a lot of the same thinking as telling a friend.
Before you talk to your partner, it can help to have some information on hand to share with them. If you can help them to understand the facts about HIV and reassure them, they are less likely to react negatively.
Many people worry that sharing their HIV status will lead to rejection—that the person they tell may react badly and that this may damage their relationship. While you can’t control how others react, remember that negative reactions are normally based on poor knowledge of HIV.
Giving someone the correct information on how HIV is passed on and how it can be prevented will help to reassure them and deal with some of the common fears and myths around it.
Communicating with your partner about your HIV status can be a very positive step in a relationship and means you can also discuss how to keep both of you healthy. Using PrEP, condoms and taking your HIV treatment correctly are all ways that will protect your sexual partner from it.
Being able to be open and honest with someone about your HIV status and your feelings can be really powerful. It can make you feel closer to the person, and they may offer you emotional and practical support when you need it.
It’s important to remember that having HIV is nothing to be ashamed of. Hopefully, whoever you decide to share your status with will see that and support you, though you may need to give some people time to process the information.