blog 170727 talking

Telling your sexual partner or lovers after you’ve been given a diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV, is never easy. It’s a conversation we’ve all had at least once and one many of us still hesitate to have. This conversation, which is called ‘partner notification’, can be tricky at the best of times.

What do I say? How do I say it? Is it safe to tell? And, how much detail do I give? These are all valid worries for anyone in this situation. At the end of the day, telling your sexual partner you’ve had an STI diagnosis is not only responsible, it makes good sense. The sooner they get tested and diagnosed, if they’ve acquired an infection, the sooner they can get treated. There’s a chance they have not contracted the STI and that will relive any worries for you or them, especially if they find out through shared social or sexual networks.

Whether it’s gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis or HIV, partner notification is usually something your nurse or doctor will raise with you shortly after your diagnosis. The other term you might hear is ‘contact tracing’. This means tracing back through your partners or contacts and letting them know they might have picked up the same STI so they can get treated as soon as possible. Usually, there are a couple of options to let them know. Either you can talk to your partners, you can ask the nurse or doctor to do it anonymously

A new option that Positive Life is getting involved with is ‘peer-led notification’. Rather than a doctor or a nurse doing ‘the telling’, peer-lead notification involves someone who is someone with ‘equal standing’ to you, rather than a clinician or social worker. A peer is on your side or preferably in similar circumstances as you. For example, they can be someone else who lives with HIV or who understands what it’s like being in your shoes.

Peer-led notification can offer you support from someone else who has ‘been there, done that’ rather than just a focus on making sure certain obligations are met. The way we talk about diagnosis, testing or treatment is different to the way a clinician will talk about it. Peers are from the community and we ask you what you want or need, rather than tell you what you want or need.

As peers, we have a focus on encouraging you to stay in control of your own health in your own way. If you’re empowered to be in control of your health, to tell who you want to tell, in the way you want to tell them, it means you’ll feel better about yourself, and your partners and fuck-buddies are more likely to respect your disclosure and support you in the future.

As a peer-led organisation, Positive Life has an interest in informing and empowering you to be in the driver’s seat, respecting your decisions and supporting you to say the things you want to say in the ways you need to say them. As peers we can support you through this process and also give you leads to other peer-based supports, counselling or groups.

If you’ve had an STI diagnosis and want some peer support to let a sexual partner know, give Positive Life a call on (02) 8357 8386, 1800 245 677 (freecall) or email

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Support
housing support for people living with HIV
Ageing Support
Treatments and Managing your HIV