3 ways to cope with hurtful questions about your HIV status

hurtful questions-HIV-positive peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

When you’re living with HIV, you know you might get some pretty hurtful questions. Some people just can’t help but ask that one question that makes your skin crawl.. They’re embarrassing, they’re annoying, but most of all, they can make you feel like crap.

Sometimes it’s because of HIV stigma. Like your aunt who knows nothing about HIV (except that it terrifies her) wanting to know if you’ve written out a will. When she asks, you want to yell, “I’m on my meds, dammit, I don’t need a will yet!”

Or things are warming up with somebody you’ve met at on POF and sure enough, you get: “Are you clean?”

One part of your brain is hoping he’s talking about showering, but another is saying “You know he isn’t, he’s just being ignorant.”

In any case, hurtful HIV questions are gonna happen. That’s on them. But it’s up to you to decide how to respond to them.

When someone asks you something hurtful, try keeping these points in mind:


hurtful questions-HIV-positive peers

Who’s doing the asking?

Who’s asking the question makes all the difference. For example, your auntie may be a blunt person, so she just blurts things out without really thinking about it.

If you have a strong, loving, and trusting relationship with the person asking the question, you might want to tell them it’s hurtful. Something as simple as “it really hurts me when you ask things like that,” can get the point across.

People who truly care about you don’t want to keep hurting you. Sometimes they just don’t understand that what or how they’re asking is rude or ignorant.

If you think that’s the case, it’s a good chance to let them know. If you want to, tell them what’s up and educate them. This can help them avoid annoying the crap out of you in the future ;p


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Should they just mind their own business?

It’s one thing to put up with intrusive questions from loved ones, close friends, or even your doctor. But what about co-workers, casual acquaintances, and people you just run into every day?

With them, the question is: Do they have the right to know the answer? If not, you can simply tell them straight up that it’s none of their business.

You could say, “How would you feel if I asked you that?”

Or you could just give them the side-eye and say nothing. Saying nothing tells the person the question is out of bounds.

It’s not your job to educate everybody who’s clueless about HIV. Just because they have questions does not mean you have to answer them. Still, if you feel compelled to respond, it never hurts to educate them so they stop being so ignorant. The choice is yours.


hurtful questions-HIV-positive peers

What was the intent of the question?

The potential hookup you meet at a party is someone you might consider telling that you are HIV positive. Remember, even in 2017, when we know undetectable = untransmittable, it’s illegal in the state of Ohio to not disclose your status to your sex partners before getting intimate (yes, even if you’re using a condom & know you’re undetectable). But, does that give them the right to ask you in a disrespectful way? Heck no.

You’re well within your rights to say “Asking me if I’m ‘clean’ implies people with HIV are dirty, and that offends me.” Even if you ruin the mood a little, you’re making a point, and any person worth going home with would admit you’re right and apologize.

People might not mean any harm when they ask hurtful questions about HIV. If that’s the case, try being patient and kindly explain why their questions are ridiculous. Hopefully, you’ll straighten them out.

But sometimes people are just mean. Some will try to use you to work out their own emotional issues. They don’t deserve your time or attention, you don’t need their drama.

It’s important to remember that hurtful HIV questions are not about you: They are about the people asking the questions. If they insult you, it’s because they are rude people.

You never deserve to be hurt. You are beautiful and we like you just the way you are  🙂


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