I was reading Dr. Justin Lehmiller’s most recent blog post oh The Psychology of Human Sexuality entitled “Are Laws Criminalizing HIV Transmission Making Us Safer?” The laws that he’s referring to are the ones that make it a legal requirement to disclose one’s HIV status to all of your partners. Now, to me, that sound’s like a no brainer; HIV is a deadly and highly contagious disease that has caused widespread damage across the globe. People who have it should have an obligation to disclose their status, right?
Well there are a couple of problems with making disclosure a legal thing. As Lehmiller states, “research has found that the sexual behaviors of HIV-positive individuals are no different in states with criminal transmission laws than they are in states without such laws.1,2Thus, there is no evidence that these laws even achieve the goal of promoting greater disclosure and safer sex.” So, first off, these laws just don’t seem to work. I mean that’s the hope for laws, right? That they’ll create an incentive for people to behave in a way that they might not if the law wasn’t in place. Well, that’s not happening with disclosure laws.
Another, more serious problem with disclosure laws is,
they could potentially reduce STI testing and treatment for some individuals by worsening the stigma associated with sexual infections. Some people may steer clear of testing because they know that a positive diagnosis would fundamentally alter their sex life and make it more difficult to find partners in the future. These persons may think that by remaining in the dark, they can carry on with their lives however they want, and if they end up infecting someone else, they can always claim ignorance as their defense. Beyond that, these laws may give HIV-negative individuals a false sense of security by placing responsibility for stopping the spread of the disease of those who are HIV-positive. To the extent that these laws lead people to falsely assume that their partners are negative unless they say otherwise, we may actually be undermining public safety. Instead, shouldn’t we be giving people the message that sexual communication is a two-way street and that it is not wise to make assumptions about other people’s sexual history?
Now, boy oh boy is this a sticky subject. I would highly recommend reading the article, it’s not that long. I’m not educated on the subject enough to have a meaningful opinion about it but Lehmiller raises some arguments that I just wouldn’t have thought of previously. It’s funny when something you think is completely uncontroversial is shown to you in a new light. Something to think on. I’ll leave you with his final sentence which echoes the sentiment that I often leave you with:
Going forward, it is important that the laws catch up with the science and that we do a better job of educating the public about the nature of STIs and the value of open and honest sexual communication.