Infection with HIV or viral STIs can have life-long effects on a person’s ability to establish and maintain relationships because of the challenges of disclosing.1

Here are just some of the realities women face:

Being deported. Being hit if she asks. Losing her family if a nurse says the wrong thing while she is having the baby.

Nobody will touch her anymore. He won’t wear a condom. She will be alone. She will fight with her lover about which one was unfaithful. Nobody will do drugs with her. Nobody will sell her drugs.

No money. No food. No place to live. No more kids.

The secret getting out. Regret.

What isn’t there to be afraid of? And, before the first disclosure, it can be fear that rules the heart. The unknown can be so scary.


What is disclosure?

Disclosure means telling someone (like friends, family members, co-workers or your sexual partners) that you have HIV. As a person living with HIV, it is your choice whether or not to disclose that you have HIV to your friends, co-workers, family members or others. Disclosure can be difficult.

Living with HIV has an effect on relationships, sex and dating – whether it is you or your partner who is positive. For sex-trade workers, it can also make the job more complicated. Fears around disclosure can include worries that a discussion could lead to violence, abuse, stigma, abandonment, poverty, loss of children, loss of immigration status, and a loss of privacy.

A service provider can help a woman get through the fear. You can offer a safe place to talk about these worries, and think about the good that might come from this situation. Help figure out next steps. Provide referrals to AIDS service organisations.

Women often have less power in heterosexual relationships, and there can be other kinds of pressures. It is not unusual for an HIV-positive woman to be told she can’t disclose her status. A partner might forbid her from getting medicine or support. Or she might not be able to make sure she has safer sex.

It’s really important to understand all the ways that disclosing might not be easy.

Here’s just one example: Think of a grandmother who keeps asking why a new mother doesn’t breastfeed, saying she would if she loved her newborn. Saying that it’s what women are supposed to do.

How can the baby’s mother answer? She has the right not to disclose in this situation, but she also wants to have a good relationship with her own mother or mother-in-law. That relationship could be lost if she doesn’t tell. That relationship could be lost if she does.

Dealing with the reality of one’s status can be very difficult. It can also give a person a new way of seeing things. Of seeing the world and one’s place in it. Your support can help women see through the fear.

One of the things I found so empowering was when I realized my part in it.2

With disclosure, the question is how best to take care of one’s self. And, from that point, where one can build on acceptance, support and understanding to face the challenges of this new world.

1Sexual Health, HIV, and Sexually Transmitted Infections among Gay, Bisexual, and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men in the United States, Richard J. Wolitski Kevin A. Fenton, 2011
2Quote from an audience member at a forum on HIV disclosure and criminalization, HIV disclosure can be dangerous, Krishna Rau, Xtra, November 28, 2008