Help! My Friend Hasn’t Told His Partner He Has HIV.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 8 2012 5:45 AM

Necessary Disclosure

My friend hasn’t told his partner he has HIV. Should I do it for him?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
A close friend of mine unfortunately was diagnosed with HIV about two years ago. We are part of a circle of close gay friends. We have been extremely supportive of him, as he is young and nobody wants such a life-altering illness. He avoided dating, as well as sex dates, until he met the person who seems to be the man of his dreams. His boyfriend does not have HIV, and we figured that our friend would tell him his own status soon enough. But it became apparent that he hadn't informed his partner and has avoided doing so for the past year. I assumed they were using protection but the other night I asked the boyfriend about it. He responded, “Of course we don't! We've been together for a year now and are monogamous.” I am in shock. My friend is being bizarrely protected by everybody with people advising that I stay out of their business. I have no idea how to tackle this situation. I feel that my friend's partner deserves to know, but how do I tell him, or who does it?

—Devastating Secret

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Dear Devastating,
A couple of years ago one of your friend’s dates, or even one of his “sex dates,” neglected to pass on some crucial information to him, and thus passed on an incurable virus. I hope he is not justifying his own negligence by concluding such risks are the price one pays for an interesting sex life. Or maybe he’s engaging in magical thinking and has concluded that if he’s on antiretroviral therapy (which I assume he is) then love and a low viral load will protect his boyfriend. It’s true treatment reduces the chances of transmission. But the risk still exists and absent the use of condoms your friend is playing sexual Russian roulette with someone else’s life. I spoke to Wendy E. Parmet, associate dean of Northeastern University School of Law and an expert on public health law, and she said that in most states a person who is HIV positive and knowingly engages in unsafe sex could be found criminally liable, though such prosecutions are rare. But your dilemma is primarily an ethical one, and I applaud you for recognizing that a wrong is being done instead of shrugging off someone else’s health. Either your friend has been lying to his boyfriend or he’s allowed the new love to make some false assumptions about his risk. That’s a terrible thing to do, and you seem to be the only person in your circle clear-eyed enough to address this. Although I turned to Parmet for legal expertise, I agree with her suggestion about how you should proceed: Have a frank discussion with your friend in which you say you understand the turmoil he must be experiencing, but if it’s true he hasn’t disclosed his HIV status to his boyfriend and they’re not using condoms, then something has to be done. This talk will confirm whether you’ve got your facts straight, and if you do, you should tell your friend he needs to inform his boyfriend immediately. Say that if he doesn’t, you will. Yes, your friendship will likely be at an end. But a person who would endanger the life of someone he supposedly loves is not much of a friend to anyone.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Play-Date Psychodrama

Dear Prudence,
For years I’ve had a long-distance occasional affair with a man living in another country. When we can, every few years we meet for a few days, usually in Europe (where neither of us lives) and between these times exchange the odd email and gift. Neither wants more from the other than this, but both of us treasure this romantic attachment, this holiday from reality. For the past few months we have been planning a two-week trip. The plane tickets are bought, I'm busy researching hotels, temples, ruined forts. The prospect of seeing this country and being with him again is thrilling. But recently I met someone whom I believe I could have a relationship with. This man and I seem to be falling for one another. My dilemma is do I cancel the trip, breaking a long-standing understanding with a man for whom, in an unorthodox way, I have feelings of loyalty and love? Or do I continue to plan for the trip, planning, in effect, to cheat on a man I am becoming close to?

—Brief Encounterer

Dear Brief,
Maybe your new man will be the one, or maybe it won’t work out. But you can’t doom this potential happiness by running off for a two-week trip with your Same Time, Every Couple of Years lover. There’s no way to explain this two-week tryst is just a self-contained event, a “holiday from reality.” (I do wonder if for your lover the holiday is from his marriage.) I understand expensive tickets have been purchased and even if you got travel insurance there’s no clause for “I met someone who seems better.” But forfeiting the airfare seems like a small price to pay if you end up finding your life partner. Tell your brief-encounter beau what’s happened. If you truly share feelings of loyalty and love, it will be bittersweet but he will wish you well. And if things work out with the new man, that European country sounds like a great place for a honeymoon.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband’s sister Susan was recently diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer. Her care plan calls for six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. There is a facility less than 30 minutes from her home where she can get this treatment. Another one, slightly better, is 15 minutes from my home. Susan lives three hours away and has asked if she can stay at our house for her six-week treatment, with me providing transportation to her appointments. She and her husband are in dire financial straits. Neither is working; the husband is on an endless money-for-nothing quest. Susan is one of the kindest people on earth. However, lodging, caring for, and transporting Susan for six weeks would destroy my family's tightly-structured budget. My husband and I have two school-aged children, and I worry how this would affect them. I’m a stay-at-home mom, but my days are filled with typical mom-errands. Am I being horrid and selfish if I encourage her to seek treatment at the facility closer to her home?

—I Guess It's All About Me

Dear Guess,
It certainly sounds as if Susan’s realizing her life’s helpmeet is no help and not meeting her needs. But unless her husband is an irredeemable bum, now is the time for her to insist he put aside his get-poor-quick schemes and step up and attend to her during her illness. After all, an out-of-work husband is in an ideal situation to take her to treatments and bring her chicken soup. You don't say whether Susan's primary motivation is superior treatment or moral support, but since you say the facility near you is only slightly better, and she is not having, say, delicate brain surgery, I assume her request is less medical than personal. If you were to have Susan stay with you, it would be a generous thing to do, and I can’t imagine that one extra mouth to feed and trips to the hospital would destroy your family’s budget. But Susan’s request for six weeks of nursing is a serious imposition, and you’re not horrid for not wanting to shoulder it. It’s time for Susan’s extended family to come together to see how they can support her. Maybe everyone can chip in and give this pair money to pay for gas and some meal deliveries. Possibly you, your husband, and other family members could take turns spending a weekend each with Susan to help with her care and lift her spirits. No matter where she has her treatments, she can find services for getting her there and back and other kinds of support at the American Cancer Society. And you should feel fine about trying to find that sweet spot between selfish and saintly.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
The recent letters about whether to reveal one's fetishes and kinks inspired me to write about a dilemma I've had for the past 25 years. When I was in college I abruptly broke up with my boyfriend. He was crushed and heartbroken. We'd been deeply in love and had talked about getting married. Even though he's married now with children, he still contacts me every few years. The last time, we had a long talk and he said that the reason he can't totally get past our breakup is that he doesn't understand what happened. He said I had been the love of his life and he knows he "blew it" but doesn't know why. I gave him my usual story about being young and not knowing what I wanted. But the truth is that before our breakup, my boyfriend asked if we could try some more adventurous sexual activities. I agreed and it involved some light bondage and spanking. Afterward, I was seriously freaked out. I was upset to discover that he had a scary, sexually controlling side to his personality and then he pressed me to do more extreme things. I broke up with him with no discussion or explanation. I've always felt very guilty about the hurt I caused him. When he calls me again should I finally tell him the truth?

—Sorry I Fled

Dear Fled,
A quarter of a century later and this guy is still trying to dominate and manipulate you. He’s convinced you he has no idea, no idea at all, why you fled. Surely it couldn’t have had anything to do with his insistence that he put electrodes on your nipples. Now he’s married with kids, but decade after decade he calls and says you’re the one. I guess he’s hoping by the time you both retire, he’ll finally break you down and you’ll agree to be punished for the hell you put him through. His kinks are beside the point: This guy is a thoroughgoing creep. You owe him nothing and the next time he calls say it’s long past time he lost your phone number, then hang up and let this worm squirm away.

—Prudie

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More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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