Hooking up with HIV: Disclosing to potential partners

Talking… hooking up… “Netflix and chill” – whatever you call it - dating is tricky business.

Maybe you want romance and friendship. You probably want to hang out with somebody who clicks with you. Somebody who thinks your jokes are funny even when they aren’t. Somebody you just want to be around all the time, somebody you can’t stop thinking about.


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 meet that person and things start to click, pretty soon you’re hangin out all the time. What’s the next move when it comes to romance and HIV? Is there a right or wrong way to go about telling someone you’re talking to you’re HIV-positive?

Well, it depends.

People with HIV have no reason to be ashamed of their status. It’s a disease, and everybody gets diseases. And it can be controlled with medication, so it’s really nobody else’s business that you’re HIV-positive.

There’s only one exception and it’s a biggie: Talking to someone cute often leads to sex, so anybody you’re thinking of doing it with needs to know you’re HIV-positive.


Depending on the state you live in, you might be breaking the law if you fail to disclose your HIV-positive status to a sex partner before you have sex – even if it’s with a condom. Currently, in 2016, non-disclosure of HIV status in the State of Ohio is considered Felonious Assault.

One strategy is to make sure your romantic interest cannot possibly get the wrong idea. Tell them from the beginning so they can’t be surprised later. Some people hate being surprised and feel betrayed if you win their trust but don’t tell them your status.

The trouble is there’s no guarantee that things will go your way. There’s so much wrong information about HIV floating around that some people just get scared away if they hear the word HIV.

Lots of folks don't understand that it’s possible to have a normal life — including a love life — with somebody who’s HIV positive.

So, things could be going great with that special somebody until the moment you tell them you’re HIV-positive. And then it goes down in flames.

But this is not nearly as bad as it sounds, if you think about it. What kind of person do you want to be with? Somebody who is so narrow-minded that they reject you entirely over one thing?


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You’re a whole person with a whole lot of things going for you. Somebody who defines you by one thing — whether it’s your hair, your height, your family or your taste for old-school hip-hop — does not deserve to be hooking up with you.  

But that’s the most extreme situation. What’s more likely to happen is you tell your new friend you’re HIV-positive and they get a little freaked out. Maybe they say “wow, I need some time to think about this.”

That’s not an immediate no, so that’s a good sign. And if you never hear from them again, it’s just as well.

Everybody is different, so you can’t expect what happened with one person to happen with the next.

People stay together because it feels better that being apart from each other. Somebody worthy of your affection will be OK with your HIV status.

So, find what feels like a good time to tell your new friend, explain your situation calmly and completely, and let them decide what to do next.

Whatever they decide, it won’t really be about you. It’ll be about their ability to accept you the way you are.


Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
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