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You will need to discuss sex as soon as you can so you can come to an ongoing agreement about safe sex. Be reassured, there are many thousands of people with HIV in Australia who are leading active and satisfying sexual lives with HIV-negative partners by practising safe sex. Consider making an appointment to see your doctor together to discuss risk of HIV transmission in your specific circumstances.
In some states public health law says you must tell prospective sexual partners that you have HIV before you have sex unless you take reasonable precautions to prevent transmission, for example, using (male or female) condoms. There have been a small number of criminal prosecutions for HIV exposure or transmission. It is difficult to generalise about these cases but it is important to note that all have relied on the fact that the person with HIV did not disclose their HIV-positive status before sex. There have been no criminal prosecutions where a (male or female) condom has been used during sex. If you are concerned about the possibility of prosecution you can contact an HIV-specialist legal service for free advice or referral.
Not all women have partners who are respectful and supportive. Some women, including women with HIV, experience domestic violence. Domestic violence is about power and control. It may include physical violence and/or social and emotional control.
No one has the right to be violent towards you but it can be hard to know what to do about it. Fortunately, there are people out there who can help. If you would like to speak to someone, call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). It is a free telephone and online confidential service for anyone who is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Talking with other positive women, particularly those with children, can be helpful for exploring different approaches you might take. There are a lot of issues to consider, including the repercussions of asking your children to keep the information about your HIV private or possible consequences for them if they tell other friends. Disclosing to your Child, is a great booklet produced by Straight Arrows. It provides more detailed information about issues to be considered and experiences of other parents deciding when to disclose their HIV status to their children. This is also an issue you can discuss with a counsellor or health care professional if you would like some guidance on what might be best in your particular family circumstances.
Your HIV doctor can discuss your health with other health care workers directly involved in your HIV care. This is important because optimal care often relies on the expertise of different healthcare providers working in partnership. Your healthcare provider cannot reveal your HIV status to anyone else except in extreme and unusual circumstances; for example, if you are unconscious and requiring emergency medical care and your HIV status is relevant to that care. Your HIV doctor must obtain your consent to discuss your health with other health care workers not directly involved in your HIV care.
Disclosing your HIV status to a healthcare professional may feel stressful but remember, for many doctors working in this field, HIV is ‘normal’. Some healthcare professionals may not be as experienced in treating people with HIV and may be insensitive or actively discriminate. If this happens, remember two things. Firstly, they’re the ones at fault, not you. Secondly, it is illegal to discriminate against a person with HIV, including in health care settings. If you have a bad experience or are refused service, you can make a complaint. You may want to contact your local HIV community organisation to talk through your complaint options, or contact your state anti-discrimination agency or the Australian Human Rights Commission to make a complaint.