Debunking Common Myths About HIV

Filed under: Health & Aging, HIV & AIDS

Visita aqui para ver este artículo en Español: Desacreditando Mitos Comunes sobre el VIH

Myths about who contracts HIV

MYTH: “HIV is a ‘gay’ or ‘LGBTQ’ disease.”
REALITY: While rates of HIV are disproportionately higher among members of the LGBTQ community, HIV is by no means confined to LGBTQ people. Anyone—regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or other factors—can acquire HIV. Calling HIV a “gay” or “LGBTQ” disease is medically untrue and only serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people living with HIV and members of the LGBTQ community.

MYTH: “I am over 50! I don’t need to worry about HIV.”
REALITY: HIV transmission is about behavior, not how old you are. Moreover, older Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV at a later stage of the disease.

MYTH: “I am in a monogamous relationship. I don’t have to worry about HIV.”
REALITY: It is still important to get tested for HIV even if you’re in a monogamous relationship. According to the latest estimates, 68 percent of new HIV transmissions among gay and bisexual men occur in the context of a primary relationship (e.g., boyfriend, friend with benefits). Be sure to talk to your partner(s) your sexual health and practices and theirs. You might even consider getting tested together for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

MYTH: “I can tell whether someone is HIV-positive just by looking at that them.”
REALITY: Some people can live with HIV for more than 10 years without showing signs or symptoms. No matter what people say, there's no way to know whether someone is (or isn't) living with HIV just by looking at them.

Myths about how you contract HIV

: “You cannot get HIV from oral sex.”
REALITY: Even though the likelihood of contracting HIV through oral sex is low, transmission can still occur. The chances are even greater if there are cuts or ulcers in the mouth or on the gums, which may appear after brushing or flossing.

MYTH: “I will contract HIV if I have sex with someone who is living with HIV”
REALITY: There are many ways to remain HIV-negative if you have sex with someone living with HIV. For example, you can use one or more HIV prevention strategies such as condoms or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Additionally, new research shows that it is incredibly rare for someone living with HIV and consistently taking their medication to pass the virus onto someone else.

Myths about HIV testing and treatment

: “I recently tested negative for HIV, so I don’t have anything to worry about.”
REALITY: Testing for HIV during a window period can lead to a false test result, especially if you engaged in high-risk behaviors in the weeks or months leading up to your test. Find out how long the window period is for your HIV test and consider getting tested early and often.

MYTH: “I see my doctor every year for a full physical. I am sure the HIV test is included.”
REALITY: HIV screenings should be a routine part of your annual exam, but it may not always happen this way. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider about it just to be safe.

MYTH: “HIV drugs are poison. They will destroy your body.”
REALITY: At the beginning of the HIV & AIDS epidemic, anti-HIV medications were difficult to take and had debilitating side effects. Scientists have since created medications that have fewer side effects and are easier and safer to use.

MYTH: “No matter what they say, HIV is a death sentence.”
REALITY: While HIV is a long-term medical condition that can cause serious problems if left ignored, it is not a death sentence. With recent advances in HIV treatment, it is entirely possible to lead a long, healthy life with HIV by seeing a knowledgeable healthcare provider and consistently taking anti-HIV medications.

Myths about HIV prevention and safer sex

: “I am on PrEP. I don’t need to use condoms.”
REALITY: When taken as prescribed by a knowledgeable healthcare provider, PrEP has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective against contracting HIV. However, PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancy. Using a condom provides additional protection in both of these situations.

MYTH: “PrEP is only for people who have a lot of sex and don’t want to use condoms.”
REALITY: There are many reasons why someone might want to take advantage of PrEP. Perhaps they are in a relationship with a person living with HIV. Perhaps they have trouble consistently using condoms. Whatever the reason, PrEP is a safe and effective HIV-prevention strategy that should be seen as a welcome addition to the HIV prevention toolbox.

This article is not a substitute for sound medical advice. Visit for additional resources – including HRC’s What Do I Do? A Handbook to Understanding? Health & HIV.