Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with HIV or been living with HIV for a while, you may well feel anxious about telling other people about your status. This is not unusual – some HIV positive men feel that having already come out as gay, they now have to go through the ‘coming out’ process all over again.

It’s always a good idea to think carefully about who you want to tell, why you want to tell them, and how you are going to tell them. Once you have told someone you have HIV, you can’t then ‘un-tell’ them, so be sure you can trust them to keep it to themselves. When you are first diagnosed, it’s probably wise only to disclose your status to people you believe will give you support. Take your time, and make sure you feel ready before you start telling people.

There are certain professions where someone would have to let their employers know that they were HIV positive, such as surgeons and dentists, and if you have one of these jobs you will probably be aware of this [1] [2]. Apart from situations like these then there’s no one you absolutely have to tell. However, be aware that if you kept your HIV status from a sexual partner, for instance, and then passed HIV on to him, you could be in trouble with the law [3]. We talk about this in the section on HIV Transmission and the Law.

How open you want to be about your HIV status is up to you. You may feel there are good reasons for telling someone, possibly for your own benefit not just theirs. However, be sure that it’s the right thing for you before you do. Some men like to be very open about their status. That way they never really have to worry if people know or not. This strategy doesn't suit everyone; if you are in a situation where people are not likely to understand, then this may not be the best way for you.

"On one level I wish the whole world knew I was positive and gave me lots of sympathy. But you can't wallow forever. I'm very wary about who I tell. I haven't had a bad reaction yet, but I don't think I've ventured into dangerous territory on that score. I haven't told work, but I have told family and close friends. And if I tell a shag, so far (fingers crossed), I haven't had a bad reaction. Actually I often get a reciprocal 'So am I'. So I suppose I'm quite open about it – I don't shout it to the world, but I certainly don't hide it away." (Martin, 39)

There can be much to gain from telling other people about your diagnosis. You may find that the support and understanding gained from confiding in close friends, for example, really helps to take some of the burden of living with HIV off your shoulders. It can be a great relief to know that you don’t have to deal with it on your own and having someone you like and trust who you can talk to can help to reduce any worries you may have.

Then there’s the possibility of greater access to services; by speaking to people or organisations that are there to support people living with HIV (whether that means at your clinic or an organisation such as THT), you’ll become more aware of other services that are available to you.

"What have I gained from telling people? New friends, a sense of belief in myself and a feeling of relief that it was in the open and I didn’t have to feel I was hiding anything any more." (Phil, 40)

Some people, however, may simply not understand and may not be able to accept your news. Be prepared for this and remember that you’ve done nothing wrong, and it’s up to them to come to terms with what you are telling them.

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1 James M N Duffy, Simon Rackstraw. Positive practice. Student BMJ 2006
2 General Dental Council Maintaining Standards, Guidance to Dentists on Professional and Personal Conduct. November 1997.
3 HIV transmission and the criminal law. NAMLIFE