Talking about HIV

When you find out that you are HIV-positive, it makes sense to tell your sexual partners about your diagnosis. They can then get tested and, if necessary, start treatment in good time. By speaking up, you prevent the infection being passed on unknowingly.

Man from the side looking at a woman drinking coffee

You decide whether or not to tell your partner ...

You do not actually have a legal obligation to inform your partner that you are HIV-positive. It is up to you to decide whether, and when, you want to tell anyone.

As long as you follow the Safer Sex rules or you are under effective treatment – in other words, that your viral load is below the detection threshold – you do not need to inform your sexual partners. However, unless you are in effective therapy, if a condom breaks or slips you should tell your partner about the risk of infection. They can then get PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) treatment within 48 hours if they wish.

... but you also have a responsibility.

HIV infection often happens in long-term relationships. If someone doesn't know that they're HIV-positive, they pass the infection on unwittingly. To prevent the disease spreading it is important to tell your partner at an early stage.

Even if one partner has no symptoms, it's still vital that they get tested and, if necessary, treated. Being diagnosed early, and starting therapy in good time if appropriate, are crucial to successful treatment.

Talking about HIV is an opportunity ...

Someone to confide in can be an enormous source of support, especially on the rollercoaster of emotions which immediately follows diagnosis. Your partner can also help you to manage your infection and any therapy. Whether you have to go to the doctor, take medication or just aren't feeling well, you can be open about the reasons. It may well be that your partner will see your openness as proof of your trust.

The information that you are HIV-positive is confidential by law. This means that nobody can pass on the information without your permission. Let your partner know that breaching this data protection rule can have legal implications.

... but isn't without risks.

Once you have told someone that you are HIV-positive, you can never un-tell them. The more people know about your infection, the less control you have over who finds out.

Whether or not to tell your partner is your very personal decision. However, you should also consider the possible implications for them before you say anything. Not everyone deals equally well with the news. It may be too much for them, causing them to withdraw. Offer information about your life with HIV to allay their fears and break down their prejudices. If you are afraid of a negative reaction and conflict in your relationship, a specialist in HIV/AIDS can help you tell your partner.

Should you worry about being taken to court by previous sexual partners? In theory, a former sexual partner could make a criminal complaint against you. However, to win a court case the complainant would have to have contracted HIV, and would have to prove not only that the infection came from you, but also that you were aware – or must have been aware – that you were HIV-positive.

What should you do next?

Coming out as HIV-positive can provoke any sort of reaction. That's why it is important that you feel secure and that you are self-confident when talking about your infection. Those you tell are bound to have a lot of questions, so don't simply mention it in passing. Instead, wait for a quiet moment when you have time to give answers.

When you tell your partner, you need to cover some core issues. Tell them about the possibility of contracting HIV, what you both can do to protect them, where they can get independent advice and/or an HIV test, as well as the confidentiality rules.

Who else should you tell?

Just as in your relationship, it can be a relief not to have to keep the secret that you are HIV-positive from your family and friends. The same note of caution still applies, however. Think long and hard about whether the person you are planning to tell really deserves your trust, and about how they will deal with the news. You don't have to tell anyone about your diagnosis if you don't want to, or if you are worried that you will suffer as a result.

Be particularly careful at work, because it is here that confidentiality is often breached, which may have far-reaching implications and even result in your dismissal. Your employer is not allowed to ask about your HIV status. However, when you start a new job it is not uncommon to have to fill in health-related forms from the pension fund and daily sickness benefits insurer. You must be truthful in your answers.

For detailed information, please consult the leaflets on employment and HIV, and on protecting data and privacy that you will find in the "Confidentiality" section ("Job und HIV" and "Datenschutz – Schutz der Privatspäre"). To brochures