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Fact Sheets: Talking About HIV/AIDS

December 1, 1999

As someone concerned about AIDS, you have an opportunity to decide what your target audience needs to know about HIV/AIDS. Spending time planning and thinking about the needs of your audience will help you prepare the most effective strategies for communicating with them, whether you are advising one person or addressing a group.

Hard-to-reach groups include women; injection drug users; members of marginalized groups; and young people under the age of 25, who represent approximately 50% of all new HIV infections in the United States.

Discussion leaders should provide access to accurate information presented in a nonjudgemental way to provide the knowlege and skills listeners need to prevent them from becoming infected with HIV. Peer educators are particularly effective discussion leaders.

Deciding What To Talk About

Many people have questions about how best to lead a discussion about HIV/AIDS.

Consider the following: What information is appropriate for the age group you will be speaking with or developing programs for? How much do the people who may be attending know about HIV infection, AIDS, and other related subjects, such as sex and drug use? Do you want to introduce a discussion around community, religious, or personal values?

Your effective conversations with others can help them make informed choices that will protect their health now and in the future.

Starting the Discussion

  • Whoever the audience, films, videos and local events such as  AIDS walks or information fairs can serve as important conversation starters.

  • Ask what they've heard about HIV/AIDS. Use their answers to begin your conversation.

  • Use questions about related topics, such as dating or sex, to lead into a conversation about HIV/AIDS.

  • Reassure your listeners that starting a discussion about HIV/AIDS does not mean you assume that they are having sex or injecting drugs.

  • If you are working with couples, it's best to work with both partners rather than to rely on one person to convey the information to the other.

  • Respecting privacy will help your listeners feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you.

Promoting Good Conversation

  • It is important that you feel comfortable talking about HIV/AIDS and other sensitive subjects. If you are nervous or embarrassed, ask someone else to speak to the group or seek training. There are numerous training opportunities available.

Know the Basic Facts

You certainly don't have to be an expert to talk with others about HIV infection and AIDS, but you must learn the basic facts so that you will be able to give accurate information. Talking about the facts with another person first may help you feel more comfortable as you prepare to talk with others.

If you do not know the answer, don't be afraid to say so. If you can't answer a question, be prepared to give other sources for information. Numerous such sources are listed throughout this resource booklet.

The Conversation Should Be Mutual

A conversation is an exchange of ideas and information, not a lecture. Encourage your audience to talk and ask questions. Ask about their thoughts, feelings, and activities. Show that you want to learn from them just as you hope they will learn from you.


Be prepared to listen to others as carefully as you hope they will listen to you. Stop talking if someone wants to speak. Give the speaker your full attention, and respect that person's words. Encourage dialogue and an exchange of ideas and feelings.

Be Upbeat

Show a positive attitude as you lead the discussion. A critical, disapproving, or lecturing tone can prompt a listener to ignore you.

Don't Get Discouraged

Sometimes listeners challenge what they hear in a learning situation. If a listener questions what you say, try not to get into an argument. Be positive and respectful of his or her words and feelings. Encourage the person to check your information with another source and to share with you what he or she found.

For free publications, contact CDC National HIV/AIDS Hotline, 800-342-AIDS, or CDC National Prevention Information Network, 800-458-5231. For film and video ideas, see Motivate and Educate!

Ideas For What To Say. . .

To Younger Children (ages 6-14)

  • AIDS is a very serious disease caused by a virus.

  • Many different types of people are living with HIV/AIDS today -- male and female, rich and poor, Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American.

  • You cannot get AIDS from sitting next to someone at school who has AIDS.

  • You can play with someone who has HIV/AIDS just as you can with any of your friends.

  • The virus that causes AIDS is spread by blood, so don't mix your blood with anyone else's to become "blood brothers or sisters."

  • You cannot get AIDS from a mosquito or any other kind of insect. The virus that causes AIDS dies inside of bugs.

  • HIV/AIDS is not spread by eating at the same table, using the same water fountains, shaking hands, or swimming with someone with HIV.

Answer children's questions about sex honestly. Some of the older children in this age group may be having sex, and it important for them to understand that HIV can be spread by having sex without a condom or by sharing needles.

To Young Adults (ages 15-24)

  • Give a definition of AIDS. For example, "AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is a serious and often fatal disease of the human immune system that is caused by a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)."  A person will not develop AIDS unless he or she has first been infected with HIV.

  • You can't tell by looking at someone if he or she is infected with HIV.

  • You can become infected with HIV from even one instance of unprotected sex.

  • The two primary ways people become infected with HIV are through unprotected sex or sharing needles with a person who is infected with HIV.

  • Birth control pills do not protect you from HIV.

  • HIV is spread through unprotected sexual intercourse -- from male to female, female to male, female to female, or male to male. HIV may be in an infected person's blood, semen, saliva or vaginal secretions. It can enter the body through cuts or sores (some so small you don't know they're there) on tissue in the vagina, penis, or rectum, and sometimes the mouth.

  • Doing drugs of any kind, including alcohol, can cloud your judgment, and you could become less careful about having sex or injecting drugs -- behaviors that place you at risk for HIV infection.

  • Sharing needles -- whether you inject drugs or steroids or use them for tattoos or body piercing -- places you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.

  • Treat people living with HIV/AIDS with respect.

To People Living with HIV/AIDS

  • Tell anyone you are going to have sex with that you are HIV-positive.

  • Tell anyone you have already had sex with that you have HIV. This will not be easy, but it will help them get the help they need and avoid their spreading HIV to others. Your local public health department may help you find the people at risk and tell them they may have been exposed to HIV.

  • Seek help if you inject drugs. You can fight HIV much better if you don't do drugs. If you do use drugs, use clean needles and equipment and don't share them.

  • Always use a condom, even if your partner is also HIV-positive, to prevent other infections.

  • Choose a doctor/health care provider who is experienced in treating HIV.

  • Tell your health care provider that you have HIV. Your doctor can help you make decisions about what medications would be best for you.  Following your doctor's suggestions will help you live a longer, healthier life. Your doctor can also answer your questions about HIV and AIDS.

  • If you are pregnant, tell your doctor immediately. There are medications you can take that can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your child.

  • Consult a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in HIV for a nutrition assessment. You can find an RD in your area by visiting the American Dietetic Association's website ( or contact the AIDS Nutrition Services Alliance ( (See Organizations for additional information).

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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication Be a Force for Change.
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