If there’s one thing more painful than being diagnosed with HIV, it’s telling your partner. Whether you’re in a budding relationship or a long-term one, disclosure is a sensitive process. Here’s how to tackle it.
Face the fear
It’s normal – you’re facing possible hurt, anger and even rejection from someone you’re close to, or hope to be, when you’re at your most vulnerable and needing support. However, a relationship is based on trust, and your partner needs to know something that can affect you both intimately. They would need to get tested themselves, and make an informed decision on whether to continue your relationship.
“Many say they use condoms regardless of their partner’s history, and that’s how they avoid the awkwardness of this discussion,” says Professor Elna McIntosh, sexologist and director of the DISA Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic (www.safersex.co.za) in Johannesburg. “But if you’re developing a relationship with increased intimacy, it’s always a good idea to discuss your status.”
Even if you use condoms, there is a chance one could break, and your partner would need to take HIV medication for a month (post-exposure prophylaxis), starting within 72 hours.
It’s not a legal obligation but you could be sued
The South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects the rights and privacy of those living with HIV/AIDS, thus it is not a legal obligation that you disclose your status to anyone.
“However, not disclosing an incurable STI like HIV can be a prosecutable offence, if you know your status and have unprotected sex,” says Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at the law firm, Shepstone & Wylie. In 1997, pioneering civil proceedings were instituted for HIV in Venter v Nel, where a woman claimed damages from her Durban businessman lover who infected her. The matter went undefended and she was awarded R344 399 for medical expenses and general damages.
Before breaking the news, be sure you know the facts about HIV, its treatment and how best to live with it, so you can answer your partner’s questions. Research reputable medical websites, speak to an HIV counsellor for guidance, even take a brochure when you break the news.
Choose the right time and place
Make it somewhere private, familiar and relaxed, and as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes.
A direct, calm, sincere approach is best, says Professor McIntosh. “Be yourself. Begin with the strengths of your relationship, ‘I love you/respect you, so I need to tell you something – I have HIV.’ Tell them about the condition if necessary. Explain that you are on treatment, and how effective today’s anti-retrovirals (ARVs) are. Assure them you will respect whatever they decide to do.”
Be prepared for different reactions
They will hopefully be supportive, but may be worried. They may also be angry if they think you contracted HIV while already with them, by being unfaithful – reassure them on that if you honestly can.
Know that their initial reaction may not be permanent; they may think differently when they calm down and become better informed. “Disclosure will either end your relationship, or make it stronger,” says Professor McIntosh. “If they leave, at least your integrity will be intact.”
Ask them to accompany you to your doctor or clinic
They can have all their questions professionally answered, and get tested. They can also learn how to best protect themselves, whether one or both of you is HIV-positive. If you are both infected, you still need to use condoms, as there is risk of reinfection.
“The newest drug, Truvada, is encouraged for discordant couples, where one of you is HIV-positive and the other is not, and is called pre-exposure prophylaxis,” says Professor McIntosh.
How Clicks Clinics can help you
Did you know Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at our clinics? To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online.
HIV home test kits are also available for purchase in-store.
Other helpful contacts
Consider contacting one of the below if you’re looking for more guidance on this topic.
- loveLife on 0800 121 900 or send a PLZ CAL ME to 083 323 1023, or contact them via their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/loveLifeNGO/)
- Call the National AIDS Helpline on 0800 012 322
- Treatment Action Campaign on 021 422 1700
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