To Tell Or Not To Tell

Recently, I spent the weekend in Toronto, and one of the many interesting and enlightening conversations that took place with my fabulous hostess and fellow travelers was about sexual health and responsibility. So, I’d like to try another debate and weigh in on both sides of this contentious issue.

Be it resolved that it is one’s responsibility to disclose their sexual health status to a new partner before any sexual contact takes place.


We’ve all been told many times that every time we’re sleeping with someone, we’re also sleeping with everyone they’ve ever slept with.   No type of protection is 100% effective against all sexually transmitted infections (STIs), except for the all-mighty abstinence… and that’s certainly not a feasible option for this sassy sex columnist!

This means that basically every time you have sex, especially unprotected sex, you’re playing a game of Russian roulette. I consider myself quite fortunate that in over a decade of sexual activity I haven’t ended up with any bullet wounds, and I’d like to hope that if I did, I would be able to address it with the honesty and candor I’ve seen demonstrated by friends who found themselves in these situations.

As I see it, from an ethical standpoint, it should be up to both parties to disclose their sexual health status when beginning a new relationship. This applies even when a person is asymptomatic, as there’s always a chance it could be transmitted. A person has the right to know what they’re getting themselves into before they take the plunge.

In certain instances, such as when one party has HIV, there is even a legal precedent for this disclosure. Following the landmark 1998 case R v. Cuerrier, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that failing to disclose your HIV status while practicing unsafe sex constitutes fraud, which can lead to charges of aggravated assault or even first-degree murder, as in the case of Johnson Aziga.

Aziga, a Ugandan-born Canadian, was charged and convicted in 2009 of two counts first-degree murder after two of the women he infected with HIV died. Not only did he practice unsafe sex until he was arrested in 2003, he also lied about his HIV status to his partners. He’s currently serving life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

Finally, where sex is concerned, we can’t just follow a “no news is good news” policy. Just because a person hasn’t said anything doesn’t mean they’re free and clear. In fact, according to, of the estimated 65,000 Canadians living with HIV, up to 26% of them were unaware of their positive status. Therefore, regular testing is a must for the sexually active. Watch for an upcoming article on when and where to get tested in Montreal.


Nothing ruins the moment quicker than blurting out the words “I have herpes”.

For some, it can be easier just to avoid this conversation altogether and not pursue new sexual relationships, futher fueling the fires of ostricization one can feel when they have an STI.

So if you’re not planning on engaging in anything more than a one night stand with someone and you use protection, some might argue that you can just skip the awkward conversation and go straight to the fun part.   After all, it’s nearly impossible to transmit herpes or HPV when you’re not experiencing an outbreak, and HIV transmission is relatively rare when a condom is used properly.

According to a study in the medical journal The Lancet, in high-income countries the risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV is 0.04% per act of unprotected sex and male-to-female transmission is 0.08% per act. The rate for receptive anal intercourse is a bit higher, at 1.7% per act.

Maybe this con argument is exactly what it sounds like – a con. If you don’t disclose and have sex with someone without infecting them, in a sense, you’ve conned them.

In the end, it’s impossible to see disclosure in terms of black and white. Take this gray example – if you’re engaging in an uninhibited quickie in a bathroom stall with someone random and equally as drunk as you, you’re probably as likely to tell them your name as you are your sexual health status. But there’s always a chance you’ll get that guilty call from them in a few weeks to inform you that “maybe you should go get yourself tested.”


Sexual health is everyone’s responsibility. It’s your responsibility to tell as much as it’s your responsibility to ask, and be honest with your response. And if you’re not able to have a mature conversation about sex and the risks it can pose, maybe you’re not mature enough to be having sex.

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One comment

  • I guess I can consider myself lucky. Having the fetishes I do make it so that I can enjoy other (alternative) sexual acts without having to worry about getting infected. Well, for the most part.

    It also means I shouldn’t be checking out girls in sandals on the bus…


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