I was exposed to HIV last year, but am not infected. Do I need to disclose this to future partners?
posted by anonymous to human relations (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am a heterosexual woman who was exposed to HIV through unprotected sex with my former partner. Our last sexual contact was in July, and I have been tested four times since then, using both ELISA/Western Blot and PCR testing each time. Every test was negative, and I am now outside of the six-month window recommended by even the most cautious of doctors.
I am starting to date again, and I feel very conflicted about whether or not to tell future partners about the fact that I was exposed.
Backstory: I met an amazing man in early 2012, and fell very hard for him, very quickly. I felt early on in the relationship that I had found "the one" - he was absolutely perfect for me in every way. Before we had sex, I had a full panel of STD testing done. We had "the conversation", in which he told me that he had been tested a few months prior and didn't have any STDs. (In fact, he had not been tested for STDs for several years, as I later came to find out.) In July, I inadvertently discovered that he was secretly bisexual, and was having anonymous sex with many, many men that he met on Craigslist and through cruising sites. I was crushed, and demanded that he get tested for STDs and share the results with me. A week later, he called me and told me he had tested positive for HIV. We had been having unprotected sex (including very high-risk sex acts) for several months at that point, and I was certain that I was infected, too. (Let me just say here that I take full responsibility for choosing to have unprotected sex with this man, and that I have learned my lesson. I thought I was doing the right thing, when in fact I was being very stupid.)
So what followed was months of absolute hell for me. I immediately went and got tested, and even though the initial test was negative, it was only a week or so after my last exposure, so I had to wait for six weeks for a second test. My negative six-week result was reassuring, but my anxiety didn't really subside until my negative test at three months. On top of being devastated by the breach of trust and the loss of my relationship, the fear, anxiety, guilt, and sorrow that I experienced was overwhelming. The whole experienced really changed me, in good ways and bad.
The conundrum: Part of me thinks that there is no reason to tell anyone - I clearly don't have HIV, and am not putting anyone at risk. I am also concerned about my former partner's confidentiality - we live in a smallish city in the bible belt where everyone knows everyone else, and he works in a VERY conservative industry. If people found out about his status, it could be career-ending. He is also deeply ashamed about the fact that he has HIV, and would be devastated if he discovered that anyone other than his doctors and I knew. Obviously, I wouldn't share his name or other identifying information with anyone, but it wouldn't be impossible for someone to put two and two together.
The other, uglier reason that I don't want to disclose is that I am scared that if I do tell people, they will reject me. Stigma and ignorance unfortunately predominate where this disease is concerned. Before I went through this experience and learned more about HIV, I would have rejected someone in the same position that I am in now. I am not proud of this fact.
On the other hand, the whole thing feels too significant not to share. It was a life-altering experience that is a big part of who I am. I have a passion for HIV advocacy and I now spend much of my free time volunteering with a local HIV/AIDS service organization. I feel that if I'm not forthcoming about it, I'm somehow buying into or perpetuating the stigma surrounding HIV.
I am so torn. It feels somehow dishonest not to disclose this information. At the same time, it feels too risky to share. What do I say if someone asks me why my partner and I broke up? (Which, btw, was because of his massive dishonesty, NOT his HIV status.) Or asks why I decided to get involved with HIV/AIDS work? What else am I not thinking of? I don't know how to negotiate this, and I could really use some other perspectives.