Debunking Common Myths about HIV
MYTH: “HIV is a ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ disease.”
REALITY: While rates of HIV infection are disproportionately higher among the LGBT community, HIV is by no means confined to LGBT people. Anyone—regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or other factors—can acquire HIV. Calling HIV a “gay” or “LGBT” disease is medically untrue and only serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people living with HIV and members of the LGBT community.
MYTH: “HIV is a death sentence.”
REALITY: While HIV is a chronic medical condition that should be taken seriously, it is not a death sentence. With recent advances in HIV treatment, it is now possible for people living with HIV to live long, healthy lives. People living with HIV who regularly take their medication can significantly reduce the risk of passing the virus onto others by as much as much 96 percent.
MYTH: “HIV isn’t something that I need to worry about.”
REALITY: While HIV is now highly treatable and HIV-positive people can live long, healthy lives, it is still important to know your status and practice safer sex. Despite recent advances in HIV treatment and prevention, new HIV infections are still on the rise in communities throughout the United States, and many people continue to be at risk. Through practicing safer sex and talking about HIV with potential sexual partners, you can help decrease the number of new infections and remain HIV-negative yourself.
MYTH: “I can tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them.”
REALITY: There is no way to tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them. Some people can be infected with HIV for more than 10 years without showing signs or symptoms. Because of this, open and honest communication with potential sexual partners is the best way to care for yourself and your loved ones.
MYTH: “I only need to get tested once per year.”
REALITY: For many people, getting tested once per year is simply not enough. For people who regularly engage in high-risk sexual activity, or use injection drugs, the CDC recommends getting tested once every 3-6 months. It is also important to remember that it may take up to three months for HIV to show up in most tests. So if you acquire HIV in January, you may not test positive for HIV until March or April.
MYTH: “I don’t need to get tested for HIV because I’m in a monogamous relationship.”
REALITY: It is still important to get tested for HIV even if you’re in a monogamous relationship. According to the latest estimates, 68% of new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men occurred in the context of a primary relationship. Therefore, it is incredibly important to talk with your partner about your sexual health and consider getting tested together.
MYTH: “It’s impossible for me to stay HIV-negative if I have sex with someone who is HIV-positive.”
REALITY: It is entirely possible to have safer sex with someone who is HIV-positive. New research demonstrates that an HIV-positive person’s risk of transmitting the virus to their partner is significantly reduced when they are on regular anti-retroviral treatment. Many mixed-status couples—where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative—are able to have lifelong, healthy sexual relationships without transmitting HIV. The belief that HIV-positive people are sexually “off limits” is medically untrue and perpetuates myths about HIV and stigma against people who have it. Additionally, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is another HIV prevention strategy that can be employed to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Learn more about PrEP and other HIV prevention strategies here.
MYTH: “I’m HIV-negative, so HIV is not relevant to my life.”
REALITY: Even if you’re HIV-negative, you can still be an ally to, and supporter of, people living with HIV. You can help educate those around you about how to practice safer sex, volunteer with a local AIDS serving organization, or simply be there for a friend who is HIV-positive when they need emotional support. We all have a role to play in HIV prevention, treatment, and care.
This article addresses HIV in the context of the United States. In countries where health infrastructure is limited, the reality for individuals living with HIV/AIDS can be very different. To find out more about HIV-related care outside the United States, visit www.avert.org.
For more HRC resources on HIV prevention, treatment and care, click here.