STDs and The Law

Do You Have a Legal Obligation to Tell Your Partner if You Have an STD?

The answer may surprise you.

As a general rule, no, you do not have an obligation to tell your partner if you have a sexually transmitted disease. There aren’t any federal or state laws making it illegal for you to not tell a partner about an STD you may have. Laws on the topic vary from state to state. That being said, it is typically illegal, civilly and criminally, to knowingly or recklessly transmit an STD. Telling someone you have an STD is not the same obligation as knowingly transmitting an STD. Specifically, some states have laws that require you to tell certain people if you are HIV-positive.

Civil (Non-Criminal) Lawsuits

In many states, if you don’t tell a partner about an STD and your partner contracts the disease, you could face a civil lawsuit. STDs often require medical treatment to cure and some, like HIV/AIDS  and herpes, are incurable and can require life-long medical treatment. Even if a victim’s damages aren’t high in physical terms, their emotional trauma and humiliation are enough to entitle them to compensation in some states.

In New York, the law states that a person has a duty to warn his or her partner about an STD. Why? Because the law assumes that individuals would not have sex if they knew about the disease beforehand (however, whether that is truly an accurate assumption depends on the person). Therefore, a person not warning his or her sexual partner and transmitting an STD is considered guilty of battery.

Typically, your partner could sue you for negligence or personal injury, and if you lose, you may have to pay monetary damages for your partner’s costs (therapy, medical treatment, loss of time at work, etc.) and injuries.

Criminal Charges

Criminal charges may ensue if you do not say anything to your partner. In states like California, it is a felony for anyone who knows that they are infected with HIV/AIDS to:

  • Engage in unprotected sexual activity with a partner
  • Not tell the partner about their HIV status
  • Engage in unprotected sexual activity for the purpose of infecting the partner with HIV

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Anyone violating this law faces up to eight years in jail. California’s law, and other state laws as well, makes it a misdemeanor (resulting in a few months in jail, a fine, or both) if the STD is something other than HIV/AIDS.

Worried about transmitting a disease to someone unknowingly and being charged for it? Click here to see our testing information.


Medically Reviewed by on September 8, 2018 - Written by STDcheck Editorial Team.

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