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Living with HIV and sexual relationships

People living with HIV have the same right as anyone else to have happy and loving relationships but telling other people that you have HIV (‘HIV disclosure’) can feel like a big step. Remember that it’s up to you who you tell that you’re living with HIV and when you tell them. Unfortunately, in many places there is still stigma attached to HIV and some people may be afraid or judgmental and some places there are laws that require you to share your HIV status before sex.

When you feel ready, talking to someone you trust about living with HIV can provide emotional support and it may also be an important step in a sexual relationship. Talking to a counsellor or other people living with HIV – for example, through a peer support group- can also help.

Telling a partner

Starting a new relationship can be very exciting but it can also raise tricky questions, like:

When should you tell a new partner you have HIV?

There’s no ‘right’ time to tell a new partner that you’re living with HIV – it's whenever feels right to you. They may have questions about how you got HIV, so think about what you’re happy to discuss. Sometimes the longer you put it off, the harder it can be to have the conversation.

How do you start the conversation?

It can help to talk about HIV in more general terms first. You could ask them a question that would give you an idea of how they might react, like “What would you say to a friend who wanted to go out with someone living with HIV?” You might want to have some leaflets or information to share with them that they can read in their own time.

How will they react?

It’s impossible to know how different people will react to HIV. Some people will be understanding and supportive, while others might be afraid, upset or angry. You can talk to a counsellor or nurse to prepare responses to questions you might be asked or how to deal with reactions. See the All about HIV pages for some useful information you could share.

What about sex?

Talking about HIV with your partners means that you both can be responsible for having safer sex. Using condoms every time you have sex prevents passing on HIV, other STIs and protects against unplanned pregnancy. Many HIV clinics provide free condoms and other contraceptives. Your partner may also be able to consider PrEP if they don’t have HIV. Remember if you’re taking ART and your viral load is undetectable, your risk of passing on HIV to your partner is reduced, so keep up treatment. If you are thinking about having a baby check out the pages on pregnancy and being a young parent.

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