Now he wants to deal with some of the ripples that followed when he told Oprah Winfrey that he was “relieved” by his diagnosis.
The former Who’s the Boss? star exclusively released a statement to PEOPLE to address confusion over his remarks.
The statement by Pintauro, 39, begins: “Relief …
I feel it’s important that I explain what I meant when I said I felt ‘relieved’ after finding out I was HIV-positive on Where Are They Now? with Oprah. Her shocked face is understandable, but there wasn’t enough time for me to really explain what I meant during the interview. I should have taken the time to explain sooner. The most important thing to say is that any notion that there was pleasure or happiness associated with the relief I felt is definitely a total misconception. Let me explain.
For the first three weeks after finding out I was HIV-positive, I cried. A lot. Every stage of grief consumed me and spit me back out. I had horrific nightmares every night. There was no moment in those three weeks where I felt anything but that my life, as I knew it, was over.
The stigma surrounding HIV is so severe that, prior to my diagnosis, any time I ever had sexual thoughts about men, I believed that somehow I had allowed HIV into my body, to the point of paranoia. In the first few years after coming out as gay, I would spend hours worrying about any encounter with a man – Did I get it simply from kissing that boy because I brushed my teeth too hard beforehand? I mean, I was always 100 percent safe, but I would even check condoms after an encounter by filling them with water to check for tears.
So one day, a few weeks after finding out my diagnosis, I had a stark ‘moment’ when I realized I wouldn’t have to worry like that anymore. I started crying. I was so angry with myself for allowing myself to get infected, and now I was now also angry with myself for feeling relieved. I can’t explain the feeling, I’m not PROUD of the feeling; in fact, I hate the feeling … Unfortunately, the fears and worries I had about getting HIV were instantly replaced by a MUCH longer list of fears and worries … and those are still here, 12 years later. So much for relief.”
RELATED VIDEO: Danny Pintauro Tells Oprah Winfrey He Has HIV: ‘It’s a Big Deal’
In his first interview after Where Are They Now?, Pintauro exclusively told PEOPLE about the precautions he had taken, the encounter that he believes led to him contracting HIV and how his diagnosis “really did come out of the blue.”
“From my perspective, I had been trying everything I could to make sure I was safe,” he said.
He also addressed the anxiety around HIV/AIDS that still pervades society: “A lot of people just aren’t comfortable with it. They might say they are, but in the back of their mind, they’re terrified of it. … And that’s okay. I can’t force them to not be terrified of something. I was terrified of it for the longest time. I understand that terror.”
Now, he told PEOPLE, he’s hoping to open up a dialogue that will both continue to destigmatize HIV and also make mixing crystal meth with sex – as he did for three years, leading up to his diagnosis – less common in the gay community.
“I am speaking out because I want everyone who continues to ‘tweak’ and party to know that it is not worth the price,” Pintauro told PEOPLE. “I want my community to wake up, stop being complacent and start taking care of each other. We need to be the best we can – safe and healthy.”