Sex and secrecy: How HIV-status disclosure affects safe sex among HIV-positive adolescents.

AIDS care

PubMedID: 26616125

Toska E, Cluver LD, Hodes R, Kidia KK. Sex and secrecy: How HIV-status disclosure affects safe sex among HIV-positive adolescents. AIDS Care. 2015;27 Suppl 147-58.
HIV-positive adolescents who engage in unsafe sex are at heightened risk for transmitting or re-acquiring HIV. Disclosure of HIV-status to sexual partners may impact on condom use, but no study has explored the effects of (i) adolescent knowledge of one's HIV-status, (ii) knowledge of partner status and (iii) disclosure to partners, on safer sex behaviour. This study aimed to identify whether knowledge of HIV-status by HIV-positive adolescents and partners was associated with safer sex. Eight fifty eight HIV-positive adolescents (10-19 years old, 52% female, 68. 1% vertically infected) who had ever initiated antiretroviral treatment in 41 health facilities in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, were interviewed using standardised questionnaires. Quantitative analyses used multivariate logistic regressions, controlling for confounders. Qualitative research included interviews, focus group discussions and observations with 43 HIV-positive teenagers and their healthcare workers. N?=?128 (14. 9%) of the total sample had ever had sex, while N?=?109 (85. 1%) of sexually active adolescents had boy/girlfriend. In total, 68. 1% of the sample knew their status, 41. 5% of those who were sexually active and in relationships knew their partner's status, and 35. 5% had disclosed to their partners. For adolescents, knowing one's status was associated with safer sex (OR?=?4. 355, CI 1. 085-17. 474, p?=. 038). Neither knowing their partner's status, nor disclosing one's HIV-status to a partner, were associated with safer sex. HIV-positive adolescents feared rejection, stigma and public exposure if disclosing to sexual and romantic partners. Counselling by healthcare workers for HIV-positive adolescents focused on benefits of disclosure, but did not address the fears and risks associated with disclosure. These findings challenge assumptions that disclosure is automatically protective in sexual and romantic relationships for HIV-positive adolescents, who may be ill-equipped to negotiate safer sex. There is a pressing need for effective interventions that mitigate the risks of disclosure and provide HIV-positive adolescents with skills to engage in safe sex.