About AIDS

Do Ask, Do Tell!

Some HIV-positive people --perhaps 13% -- don't disclose their status to partners before risky sex, says a new University of California study. Researchers interviewed about 1,400 infected individuals -- gay men, heterosexual men, and heterosexual women -- about sex and HIV disclosure. Among those who were sexually active, 13% said that they had had unprotected sex with a partner whose status was unknown or HIV-negative. Interestingly, most often neither partner had revealed his or her HIV status: "mutual nondisclosure."

The gay men were the most likely to have had sex, protected or not, without revealing their HIV status but more likely to disclose to a relationship partner than to a casual hookup. Heterosexual men and women were just as likely to not reveal their HIV status in a casual relationship as in a monogamous relationship. Hence, our slogan, "Love is no protection!"

Obviously, our longstanding admonition about HIV-poz people acknowledging their infection isn't getting universal compliance, as further confirmed by calls to ASA's information phone line. Frequently, calls begin, "I suspect my boyfriend/girlfriend/date may have HIV, and he/she didn't tell me. No, I didn't ask."

The vast majority of HIVers either abstain from sex, disclose their status, or try to minimize risk through safer sex. However, even the small percentage of HIV-infected people, both gay and straight, who "don't tell" and who "aren't asked" perpetuate the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It's still important to promote the idea of mutual (even if unequal) responsibility: Do Ask, Do Tell!

(For details, see the June issue of The American Journal of Public Health.) -- Sandy Bartlett

Community Education Coordinator, AIDS Services of Austin

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