Living with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can force you to make some difficult decisions from time to time, but is it illegal to not tell someone you have a STD before you have sex? Though millions of people are affected, a STD diagnosis is understandably not a popular topic of discussion between casual acquaintances. And while we’re not saying you need to broadcast your medical history to everyone you meet, informing sexual partners is a different story. Is it illegal to hide a STD from your partner? It is definitely possible–depending on the state, what STD could be transmitted, and whether or not there was premeditation. If someone purposely exposes another to a sexually transmitted disease, it can result in legal measures. Such harmful actions can be punishable in criminal or civil court.
STD Disclosure Laws
Many states do have laws on the books that prohibit the transmission of at least certain STDs (specifically HIV), but the details of the laws differ greatly from state to state. To provide some perspective, 26 states within the US have some type of law regarding criminal transmission of HIV. Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 19 states require people living with HIV to inform their sexual partners as of 2018. Generally speaking, this means that if you are knowingly living with HIV, you are not allowed to act in a fashion that would put others at risk of becoming infected. This would include unprotected sexual activity, needle sharing, and any other act in which bodily fluids are passed from one person to another.
An infected person who commits these acts can, in many jurisdictions, be charged with criminal transmission of a STD.
For example, the Tennessee Department of Health considers the “Criminal exposure of another to HIV is a Class C felony.” While a Class C felony is the most lenient of convictions, there have been more serious cases. In these more extreme cases, people have even been charged and convicted of attempted murder (though these cases are rare and typically involve not only reckless, but blatantly malicious actions on the part of the accused).
However, not all concerns are specifically for HIV. For instance, California recently underwent a change in criminal law when it comes to the transmission of STDs. As of 2018, the state of California considers all STDs to have grounds for a criminal accusation and not just HIV.
However, if you are unaware that you have one of these diseases, and it can be proven in a court of law that you truly did not know, then you cannot be criminally prosecuted for transmitting the disease to someone else.
Again, most of the cases you hear about in the media regarding the criminal transmission of a STD deal with HIV specifically as most states do criminalize the transmission of the virus to some degree. In regards to other STDs, states will have usually less stringent STD disclosure laws (or no laws at all), however, that doesn’t give you the right or legal pass to act in what might be deemed a reckless or dangerous manner sexually. Research the regulations in your home state for specifics on the matter, but also be thoughtful about your body and how you impact other people.
Lawsuits are common in the United States, and people have been sued for transmitting a STD to someone else, regardless of whether or not a criminal case is filed. These cases may be more commonly centered around non life-threatening STDs or STIs such as chlamydia or herpes. Cases like these are typically argued as one of three offenses: negligence, battery, or fraud. In a nutshell, one would ask the following questions for each case:
- Negligence: Did the defendant have and ignore an obligation to disclose their STD diagnoses from a sexual partner?
- Battery: Did the defendant cause physical harm to the plaintiff by transmitting a STD?
- Fraud: Did the defendant deliberately hide or lie to a partner about having a STD in a deceptive effort at having intercourse?
Of course, whether these lawsuits are successful can vary greatly. Every case brings different evidence, different arguments, different stipulations, and different results. So as helpful as it might be, it would be virtually impossible to turn this into a black or white topic with clear cut answers one way or the other. That is why it is easier to simply be straightforward with your partners about your status, so no one feels tricked or harmed in the first place.
Regardless of what STD disclosure laws look like in your state, it is better to remain open and honest with your partner about your sexual health and history. By being honest, you will be taking the proper precautions to ensure that you both stay as safe as possible. This means following safe sex practices and getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases and infections when appropriate. Remember, just because an action or lack thereof isn’t technically “illegal,” doesn’t mean it’s right. Take the extra step towards sexual health by getting tested today with Priority STD.