Finding out you have HIV is tough, but it’s not the end of the world. Lots of people with HIV have relationships and live long, healthy lives.

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What do I do if I find out I have HIV?

Finding out that you have HIV is really upsetting. You might feel mad, embarrassed, scared, or ashamed at first. But you’ll probably feel better as time goes by — having a good support system and getting counseling really helps. There are medicines you can take to help you stay healthy, and lots of ways to avoid giving HIV to anyone you have sex with. The reality is, people with HIV can be in relationships, have sex, and live normal lives by taking a few precautions.

Millions of people have HIV — you’re definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having HIV or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. It doesn’t mean you’re “dirty” or a bad person.

There’s no cure for HIV, but medications are helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives than ever before. HIV treatments called antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow down the damage that HIV causes. Even if you’re feeling totally fine right now, see a doctor as soon as you can so you can talk about the best ways to stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline can help you find a doctor near you who specializes in treating HIV: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Taking care of your emotional health is important, too. It’s a good idea to see a counselor or therapist who’s trained to help people with HIV. There are a lot of online and in-person support groups that can give you a safe place to talk about your feelings with people who understand what you’re going through.

The CDC’s Act Against AIDS page has more information about treatment, counseling, and other ways to stay physically and emotionally healthy.

It’s very important that you tell anyone you’re having sex with that you have HIV. It’s not the easiest conversation, but it’s an important one.

How do I talk with people about having HIV?

It might feel scary to admit that you have HIV, but talking about things can really ease your mind. You could lean on a close, non-judgmental friend or family member whom you trust to keep the conversation private. Counselors and support groups can also be sources of comfort — and they can help you figure out how to talk with others  about your HIV. Be careful about who you tell your status to — people with HIV sometimes deal with unfair discrimination.

There’s no one right way to talk to your partners about having HIV, but here are some basic tips that might help:

  1. Try to stay calm and remember that you’re not the only one dealing with this. Millions of people have HIV, and plenty of them are in relationships. Try to go into the conversation with a calm, positive attitude. Having HIV is a health issue, and it doesn’t mean anything about you as a person.

  2. Know your HIV and AIDS facts. There are a lot of myths about HIV out there, so read up on the facts and be ready to answer your partner’s questions. Let your partner know there are medications that can help you live for a long time and avoid passing HIV to them. Safer sex can also help protect your partner.

  3. Think about timing. Pick a time when you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and a place that’s private and relaxed. If you’re nervous, you can talk it through with a friend who knows your status or a counselor first, or practice by talking to yourself. It may sound strange, but practicing saying the words out loud can help you figure out what you want to say and feel more confident when you talk to your partner.

  4. Safety first. If you’re afraid that your partner might hurt you, you’re probably better off with an e-mail, text, or phone call — or in extreme cases, not telling them at all. Call 1-800-799-SAFE or go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website for help if you think you might be in danger.

Try not to play the blame game when you talk to your partner. If one of you tests positive during the relationship, it doesn’t automatically mean that somebody cheated. It takes a few months for HIV to show up on a test, and most people don’t have any symptoms for years. So lots of people have HIV for a long time without knowing it, and it can be hard to tell when and where someone got the virus. The most important thing is that you both get tested. If it turns out only one of you has HIV, talk about how you can keep the other one safe from HIV.

It’s really important to also tell your past partners that you have HIV, so they can get tested, too. A lot of health departments have programs that let your partners know they were exposed to HIV without giving them your name unless you want them to.

What do I need to know about dating with HIV?

Some people feel like their love lives are over when they find out they have HIV, but it’s just not true. People with HIV can have romantic and sexual relationships with each other, or with partners who don’t have HIV. There are dating websites and support groups for people living with HIV that can help you find a partner who’s also HIV positive.

Talking about STDs isn’t the most fun conversation you’ll ever have. But it’s super important to tell your partners about your HIV status so you can help them stay healthy.

So … when do you tell a new partner about your HIV status? You might not need to tell them the very first time you hang out, but definitely let them know before you have sex. When the relationship starts heading down that path and you feel like you can trust the person, that’s probably a good time.

It’s normal to be worried about how your partner’s going to react. And there’s no way around it: some people might get freaked out. If that happens, try to stay calm and talk about your plan to stay healthy and make sure you don’t give it to anyone else. You might just need to give your partner a little time and space to process the news, which is normal. They can also talk to their doctor about ways to protect themselves from HIV.

Will having HIV affect my pregnancy?

Babies can get infected with HIV during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding — that’s why it’s recommended that everyone get tested early in pregnancy. If you have HIV, antiretroviral medications greatly lower your chances of giving HIV to your baby. With treatment, less than 2 out of 100 babies born to women with HIV will be infected. Without treatment, about 25 out of 100 babies will be infected.  

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