Secrets and safety in the age of AIDS: does HIV disclosure lead to safer sex?

Top HIV Med. Oct-Nov 2004;12(4):109-18.


To fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic, HIV-seropositive individuals must interact unsafely with HIV-seronegative individuals. Research indicates that up to one third of individuals diagnosed with HIV continue to have unprotected sex, at times without informing partners, who may be of negative or unknown serostatus. Some research and public health interventions have focused on encouraging HIV-positive individuals to reveal their serostatus to their sexual partners, predicated upon the assumption that disclosure will increase the safety of subsequent sexual activity with informed partners. This review examines the empirical literature on disclosure of HIV status and subsequent sexual risk behaviors of HIV-positive individuals. Only 15 of the 23 studies reviewed provided data that allowed us to examine the association between disclosure and safer sex. Fewer still provided a methodologically sound analysis, and those that did provided conflicting results, often with significant effects limited to only 1 subgroup of participants. However, this failure to demonstrate a consistent association does not necessarily mean that disclosure is irrelevant to the practice of safer sex. We discuss limitations of the research to date and implications for policy and practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / transmission
  • Condoms
  • Disclosure*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • HIV Seronegativity*
  • HIV Seropositivity* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Risk-Taking
  • Safe Sex / psychology
  • Safety
  • Sexual Behavior* / psychology