Updated October 24, 2023
Talking about HIV with friends, family, and other loved ones can sometimes be challenging but can also bring you closer together! There are many ways to make these conversations easier. Try these tips for successful conversations about HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.
Talk HIV with Partners, Friends, and Family
How we talk about our sexual, physical, and mental health is important, because honest conversations lead to healthier, happier communities. No matter one’s HIV status or how we identify or live, everyone should be supported with love and compassion. The first step to stopping HIV is talking openly about it—how to get tested, how to prevent it, how to get in and stay in care, and how to address HIV stigma head on.
Consider your timing
Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to start talking about sexual health and HIV prevention. Check in to see if it’s a good time to talk when you approach your friends, family, and partners.
Keep it short and state exactly how you feel. Tell your friends, family, or provider(s) how they can best support you.
Find a safe time and space
Some of these conversations can be uncomfortable or emotionally charged. Sometimes people can react with anger, sadness, or confusion. Find a time and place where you can safely and comfortably have this conversation. This may be at home, on a walk, or any place where you can speak without being interrupted by others.
Having “the talk” shouldn’t just be a one-time thing. It’s okay to pause and come back. Remember, it’s hard to communicate well if someone feels stressed or upset.
Use “I” statements
Communicate clearly by saying three pieces of information: how you feel, the situation that made you feel that way, and how the other person can support you. Use “I statements” when talking.
|“I feel ___________ (emotion) when/about __________ (event) happens. Can you ____________ (action/request)?”|
Knowing your status puts you in charge of your sexual health! And the first step is to get tested for HIV. The more we talk to our friends, partners, family, and community about the importance of getting tested for HIV, other STIs, and mpox, the more we can normalize it. There are many options for getting tested, including HIV self-tests.
- “I want to get tested for HIV, but it always makes me nervous. Do you mind coming with me?”
- “I’ve been seeing someone, and I really like him/her/them. So far, it’s been pretty casual, and I really want to see where it goes. I want to talk to her/him/them more about taking our relationship to the next level, but I want us both to get tested for HIV before we get more serious. How do you talk to your sex partners about getting tested for HIV?”
- “I try to get tested for HIV at least once a year at my local community health center. Do you know where to get tested for HIV? If not, I can share some info!”
HIV self-tests are an option for HIV testing to learn your HIV status on your own time and in your own space. You can take a self-test in the comfort of your own space, share a test with a friend, test with a new partner, or even give a test to your mom who just got back out on the dating scene!
- “Did you know there are free HIV self-tests that we can get delivered to my house so that we can test whenever we want? I feel like this would be a good thing to do before we take things to the next level. Shall I order some?”
- “I saw the local community health center is giving out some free HIV self-tests. I’ve never taken an HIV test before. Think you can take one with me?”
- “Hey Mom, a lot has changed since you were last on the dating scene. Like, did you know you can take an HIV self-test at home? If you’re ever interested in taking one, I’m here for you. I’ll even take one with you!”
Talking about our sexual health is important whether we’re talking with family or friends, starting a new relationship, or even continuing a current relationship.
- I like how things are going between us, and I want to take it to the next level. But before we do, let’s get tested for HIV and other STIs. I have an appointment next week. Come with?”
- “I’d like to talk with you about something that feels awkward, but it’s important to me. It’s about our sexual health, and I’d like to hear your thoughts about PrEP, condoms, STIs and HIV testing, and sleeping with other people. I know it can feel like a lot, but I care about you and believe that sharing honestly will strengthen our relationship! Can we find some time to chat about this?”
- “I feel awkward talking about this, but it’s important for me to know what I’m getting myself into. Do you talk to people you’re about to hook up with about STI and HIV testing? How do you even start the conversation?”
Talking about HIV prevention is important because it works! We have more HIV prevention tools than ever, such as PrEP, PEP, and condoms! We can all support HIV prevention by knowing our status and having honest conversations with our family, friends, partners, community, and health care providers.
- “I know we haven’t really talked about it, but I think when the time comes, I would like us to use condoms to keep each other safe. What do you think?”
- “I want to learn more about PrEP and condoms, so that I can make the right choices when the time comes. What about you?”
- “I’m nervous about asking my partner to start using condoms. How do you tell your partner you want to use condoms?”
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV is one form of HIV prevention. The choice to take PrEP is yours! Sharing whether you’re taking PrEP with others is not necessary, but it can bring you closer as you share about yourself. Pro tip: If your provider isn’t comfortable prescribing PrEP to you, find one here who will support your HIV prevention journey.
- “I know we haven’t really talked about this before, but it seems like things are heating up and I wanted to let you know that I take PrEP because it’s safe and effective. Maybe it’s an option for you too?”
- “PrEP puts control in my hands. Do you want to hear about how I got on PrEP?”
- “I recently just learned that PrEP can be injectable or taken as a daily pill. I’m thinking about trying the shot and am going to talk to my doctor about it. Have you considered PrEP?”
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV is another HIV prevention method. It is an emergency medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. Talk to a health care provider, emergency room doctor, or urgent care provider about PEP if you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV. PEP is most effective when taken 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV.
- “Things got hot pretty quickly last night, and we didn’t really talk about HIV statuses or anything. Just to be safe, I’m going to talk to my doctor about getting tested for HIV and STIs and to see about getting on PEP. Wanna come with?”
- “We just hooked up and didn’t use a condom, and I just left afterwards. I’m nervous I might’ve been exposed. I want to get tested for STIs and maybe ask about PEP. Can you come with me? I don’t want to be alone.”
- “I realize you might feel like this is none of my business, but it sounds like you might have been exposed to HIV. There’s a drug called PEP that you can take within 72 hours of exposure to prevent HIV. Want me to go with you to talk to a doctor about it just to be safe?”
Telling your partner(s), family, or friends that you have HIV can be an overwhelming conversation. It’s okay to wait until you feel ready, and if you aren’t ready to tell people in your life, look for a support group (either in person or online) so that you have someone to talk to until you are ready to share with those you love.
- “Hey, I have some news I want to share with you, and I’m really nervous. I just got my HIV test result, and it’s positive. Everything seems like such a blur, but my testing counselor gave me a lot of information about care and treatment services. I’m feeling overwhelmed… All I know is I need you. Can you come with me to my next appointment?”
- “I feel that we’ve gotten really close, so I want to share something important with you. I have HIV. I am on treatment, and I am undetectable. Being undetectable means my viral load is so low that I can’t transmit HIV to a sex partner. I know this can be hard to hear, but I wanted you to know because I trust you. Do you have any questions for me?”
People can sometimes feel alone with their diagnosis or be afraid to share their status in fear of rejection. As a person living with HIV, there are ways you can share your status with others and seek the support you would like when you are ready as well! And it’s important to embrace your loved ones when they share their diagnosis with you and support them as they get and stay in treatment.
- “I feel thankful that you have trusted me and shared with me. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to support you.”
- “I appreciate you telling me. I know that with treatment, people live long and healthy lives, and it’s just like managing any other chronic disease. I’m always here if you ever want someone to talk to.”
The words we use are important and have an impact on others. Know how to talk about HIV to avoid stigma. We can do our part to stop HIV stigma by being intentional and thoughtful when choosing our words and using supportive—rather than stigmatizing—language. Use our stigma language guide to avoid promoting stigma and misconceptions about HIV.
- “It is not okay to discriminate against people with HIV and call them names. People who live with HIV can live long and healthy lives, have healthy sexual lives, and do everything like everyone else. Do you have specific questions about HIV that I can answer that can help you understand it better?”
- “I was surprised by your negative reaction to my brother/sister/cousin/friend/partner sharing their HIV status with you. They shared a part of themselves with you because they care about you and know you care about them. Are there questions that I can help answer? I’d be happy to share more facts about HIV with you.”
Talk HIV with a Provider
Most health care providers want you to live your healthiest life, and they believe in working with you to find the best ways to achieve good health. When you go to a health care provider, it is your right to be seen as your whole, authentic self and to receive affirming, respectful care. You have the right to voice your concerns and ask questions. If at any time you are not comfortable with your provider, it is okay to find a different provider.
Before Your Appointment
Here are key things you can do to be prepared for your appointment
- Write out your questions ahead of time
What is the purpose of your visit? What would you like to learn from your health care provider? Has anything been bothering you recently that you would like to talk about? Write it down and include as much detail as possible. If your provider has the option, share your questions with them in advance.
For instance, if you notice a rash or sore throat or are having chills, make a note of when they started and how often you notice them.”
- Schedule your appointment
When speaking with the scheduler, share your name and pronouns along with other required information. Also let them know why you are coming so that the provider allows enough time to meet with you.
- Bring someone with you
If you’re nervous or need additional support, ask a friend to join you at your appointment. Sometimes our friends/family can be the advocate we need in the room.
Let your provider know how you’re doing. If this is your first meeting, be ready to share a short introduction of yourself and your health background.
Be open and honest with the provider about the kinds of sex you have, the gender(s) of your partners, and your safer sex practices. Tell your provider about your sexual history, even if they don’t bring up the topic.
Bring a list of all your medications (including supplements, birth control, and hormones), dosage, and how long you’ve been on them.
Use the notes feature on your phone or bring a notepad to take notes on what the provider tells you so you can review this later.
Providers can be busy but remember—the appointment is your time to share your concerns. Let the provider know if you feel rushed, worried, or not heard. For example, you could say, “I know you are busy, but I am really worried and would appreciate if we could talk more about this.”
Some example questions to ask during your appointment:
- How do I protect myself from HIV, mpox, and STIs?
- How can I get started on PrEP?
- I am interested in learning about injectable PrEP, because sometimes I forget to take the pill. Can we talk about this?
- I want to protect myself from HIV, mpox, and STIs, but I’m worried my partner will not be okay with using condoms. Are there options for me to protect myself?
- I would like to get tested for HIV and other STIs. Can you tell me what the tests involve?
- How and when will I find out the results of these tests?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the risks and benefits of this treatment option?
- Are there long-term effects of treatment for HIV, STIs, or mpox?
- Will my hormones or medication interfere with PrEP?
- What are common side effects?
- Should I take this with food? What time of day should I take it?
- Should I avoid anything while taking this?
- What if I miss a dose?
After your appointment, schedule your next appointment and get any necessary referrals.
If your appointment did not go well, it’s important to find a provider who respects you and with whom you feel comfortable discussing your health.
- Find a health care provider who can support you with HIV prevention and treatment services and other support services near you.
- See this directory of queer and transgender affirming health care providers put together by WPATH.
- Talk to your friends and see if their provider could be a good match for you.