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The Shared Responsibility of HIV Disclosure

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There is a common assumption among the sexually active homo population that it is the responsibility of HIV-positive men to disclose their status before engaging in bedroom gymnastics. Based on this assumption, a person who doesn't mention his status before he tries and fails to make a baby with another man silently asserts that he is HIV-negative by default. Even if a person living with HIV had an undetectable viral load and used protection, he would be considered a reprehensible, immoral and altogether villainous character if he failed to disclose his scarlet plus sign to his unknowing, HIV-negative partner. But when it comes to the laws of responsibility in HIV disclosure, sometimes there is more than one suspect in a crime.

The Scene of the Crime

The following scenario is based on a true story.

Parker is a young, successful and single gay man living with HIV. Nathan is of the same homo vein, but he is HIV-negative. The two met while Parker was at a business conference and Nathan was on vacation with several of his friends. A mojito at the hotel pool quickly led to martinis at the closest gay bar. Dinner was served, flirtation escalated, and Nathan ended up back in Parker's room for a little more than dessert. The fast and frenzied pace of this out-of-town romance caught Parker by surprise, and he failed to find the right moment to disclose his HIV status (and Nathan never asked). His viral load is at an undetectable level, and they used protection, but his conscience wasn't satisfied with this threshold of safety.

The Confession

Parker and Nathan parted ways the next morning with plans to meet up for a drink later in the day. By 6 o'clock, the weight of the guilt over not disclosing to Nathan had Parker in need of more than just a strong pour on his vodka gimlet. He needed to clear the air.

Parker told Nathan that he is HIV-positive. He explained that he is on medication and has an undetectable viral load. He said that since they'd used a condom, Nathan's health was not at risk, but that it was important to him to be honest about his status.

Nathan was visibly shaken and admitted that Parker should have disclosed his status before they had sex. He was concerned because there was a lot of kissing and oral play that took place. Parker explained the reality of transmission and that Nathan had nothing to worry about, but the damage was done. Nathan felt victimized, and he was sitting across from the smoking gun. Needless to say, the two men didn't order a second round.

In the jury of public opinion, the judgment of who committed the crime and who was the victim receives a unanimous vote. But before the sentence of shame is handed down to Parker for not disclosing his status, let's look at who had the motive to commit the crime.

Parker did want to tell Nathan about his HIV status. As a man who is actively managing his disease with treatment, it is important for him to be upfront about being positive, even if there is no health risk involved. However, many people fail to understand that when you become HIV-positive, you aren't handed an operator's guide on how to handle your new status. The variables of sexual psychology are limitless when concerning dating and HIV. Although he failed to disclose that he was an HIV-positive man, Parker had taken the steps to protect Nathan and himself -- both by using a condom and by being steadfast in his treatment regime.

Nathan is a sexually active gay man who, by default, is part of the HIV community. With one out of every five gay males being HIV-positive, it is his responsibility to protect his own sexual health. It's true that Parker did not disclose that he is HIV-positive, but Nathan didn't disclose that he is HIV-negative, nor did he ask to know Parker's status before the clothes started to come off. In this scenario, Nathan has a motive to stay negative. Therefore, he is also guilty of committing the crime of not disclosing his status and not inquiring about the status of his sexual partner.

This is only one out of many criminal scenarios that many of us find ourselves in when it comes to dating, dirty talk and disclosure. When it comes to sex, there are always two (or more) suspects whose motives should be investigated. And when it comes to protecting each other's health, the burden is mutually shared, and the responsibility is equally divisible, regardless of status.

Everyone has an HIV status. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.