Except in two states (Indiana and North Carolina), people testing positive for HIV are not required to inform previous sexual partners of a positive result. However, once you become aware of your HIV-positive status and then have sexual relations, state laws often require that you disclose your positive status to those sexual partners.

State health officials often encourage people to notify previous sexual partners and, if requested, will contact partners themselves without disclosing the newly diagnosed person’s name. But such “partner notification” programs are voluntary for the newly diagnosed person, and with the exception of Indiana and North Carolina (which require that you inform previous partners, though not necessarily through the partner notification program), there are no criminal penalties for not participating.

If the idea of telling your positive result to a previous (or current) sexual partner is very stressful to you, these partner notification programs can be very valuable. The person notified can then be tested and find any needed health care, and you don’t need to do the disclosing yourself.

If, on the other hand, it is important for your own safety that a previous sexual partner not know that you recently learned you are HIV positive, think carefully about whether “partner notification” services are right for you. If you have concerns about your safety, consider the repercussions if the person is able to guess your identity despite not being told your name.

Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and all people living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Go to LambdaLegal.org/Know-Your-Rights for more information.