Myth 1: Promiscuity and drug addiction is the root cause of HIV/AIDS.
One of the biggest myths about those living with HIV is that they contract the virus through heavily stigmatized behaviors — namely drug abuse and promiscuity. Having multiple sexual partners or sharing needles while using drugs certainly increases your risk of coming into contact with someone carrying the HIV virus, but policing behavior does more to hinder the conversation around HIV/AIDS than help it.
“There’s nothing gained by the blame game,” Michael Kaplan, president and CEO of AIDS United, tells Mashable. “In fact, I think it inhibits our public health efforts immensely.”
Advocates stress the importance of safer sex and education on the realities of transmission, instead of efforts to squash behavior. The reality is that those with multiple sexual partners, who are practicing safer sex and taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs like Truvada, are probably more protected than someone in a monogamous relationship with someone with whom they haven’t had the “status talk.”
Regardless, Strub says it simply: “The cause is a virus.”
Myth 2: HIV/AIDS is solely a problem for gay men and people of color.
Strub says while it’s true that two-thirds of new cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. are among men who have sex with men, that doesn’t account for the fact that globally, the majority of people living with HIV do not fit that profile. Even if some groups are at a higher risk, it doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t transmittable to those who don’t fit a risk category.
“It isn’t solely a problem for any community; it is a problem for society,” Strub says. “Those at the margins, who are least well-served by the health care system, for example, are more likely to acquire HIV.”
In other words, everyone has a stake in the conversation.
Myth 3: If you have unprotected sex with someone who is positive, chances are you will contract the disease.
In his disclosure, Sheen used a word that’s probably new to the general public — “undetectable.” In saying that his viral load is undetectable, Sheen is saying that his treatment over the last four years is working so well that the level of virus is too low to be measured in his blood.
Being “undetectable” is the goal of HIV treatment — it largely guarantees a high quality of life and an extremely low chance of transmission. In fact, as many studies have shown, there has not been a single proven case of transmission of HIV from someone who was known to have an undetectable viral load at the time of the sexual contact.
“When people are virally suppressed, they basically become non-infectious,” Kaplan says.
For Laurence, however, the key word is “basically”— because it doesn’t mean completely non-infectious.
“Being undetectable doesn’t mean the virus is not there,” Laurence says. “The risk of transmission is very, very low. But it doesn’t mean it’s zero-point-zero — so we recommend people practice safer sex, even if the risk is really low.”