The process of telling people that you have HIV is often referred to as “disclosure”.

Do women have to disclose their HIV status?

For the most part, women living with HIV do not have to disclose their HIV status if they don’t want to. Disclosure to family, friends, employers and others is a personal choice but not disclosing to sexual partners could result in criminal charges. According the Supreme Court’s 2012 rulings, all people with HIV have a legal obligation to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners before engaging in sexual activities that pose a “realistic possibility of HIV transmission”. In the decisions, the court ruled that individuals are not required to disclose their HIV status before having vaginal sex if a condom is used and the HIV-positive person has a “low” HIV viral load. In spite of over 100 prosecutions since that time, Canadian courts have not been able to clearly define what is meant by “realistic possibility of HIV transmission”.   

Legally need to disclose

  • Before having vaginal or anal sex without a condom (regardless of viral load)
  • Before having vaginal or anal sex when viral load is not low (even if using a condom)

Do not have to legally disclose

  • Having vaginal sex if viral load is low or undetectable and a condom is used
  • The law does not speak to oral or anal sex

A woman can decide to be open about her HIV status, or she can be very selective about whom she tells. For example, a woman does not need to tell her HIV status to:

  • her co-workers
  • her landlord
  • her child's school principal
  • her parole officer

Things to consider about disclosing

Disclosing can be difficult. It is important that women take time to think about the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure. Disclosing to others can help women find the support they need. Seeking out safe and trusted support can be the first step in this process. Disclosing to a trusted doctor or other healthcare providers can allow them to provide better care. Disclosing to family, friends, sexual partners, and other personal networks can be a source of acceptance and support. But there are some cautions to be aware of in the process of disclosure. Disclosing her HIV status can put a woman in a vulnerable position. Some people will react with shock, fear, judgment, or even violence, especially if they do not know much about HIV. In some cases, women have been subjected to abuse when disclosing to their partners.

Find support

When thinking about disclosure, it is important to know that there are supports available and people who can help you think through this process. Contact your local HIV service organization – they will have information about accessing information and support.

For more information about disclosing to sexual partners

For more information about disclosing to children

For more information about the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure

Disclosing to others can help women find the support they need.

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