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Myths About HIV

April 7, 2015

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Myths About HIV Transmission

The Myth: "People with HIV or AIDS look sick."

The Reality: Often, people who are infected with HIV do not look or feel sick. Many times, they do not even know they are infected. Taking an HIV test is the only way of knowing if you or someone else is infected with HIV.

The Myth: "Straight people do not get HIV."

The Reality: The majority of people living with HIV worldwide are straight (heterosexual). Men infect women, and women infect men. Risk is not about labels or categories of people. Any person who has unprotected sex or shares drug equipment with someone who is HIV+ or whose HIV status is not definitely known is at risk for HIV.

The Myth: "I am safe because I am in a monogamous relationship (or married)."

The Reality: Because people living with HIV often do not 'look sick,' it is important to know your partner's HIV status before having unprotected sex. In an ideal world, if you and your partner remained monogamous and tested negative for HIV after the 3-month window since your last possible exposures, unprotected sex would be safe. However, if your partner is HIV+, if he or she is having sex outside the relationship, or if your sexually faithful partner is injecting drugs and sharing needles or drug equipment, you are at risk for getting HIV. Please do not confuse love or commitment with safety. If you do not know your partner's status, and cannot use condoms, you may want to consider taking PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. This means taking HIV drugs while you are HIV-negative to reduce the chances that you will get HIV if you are exposed to it.


The Myth: "If I am over 50 years old, I am too old to get HIV; HIV is not a disease that affects my generation."

The Reality: Age does not protect you from becoming infected with HIV. In fact, people over 50 years old are getting HIV at an increasing rate and are estimated to represent half of all people living with HIV in the US in 2015. Unfortunately, older adults are frequently ignored in discussions about HIV prevention and care and so are not aware that they are at risk. For more information, see The Well Project's article, Older Women: At Risk for HIV.

The Myth: "If I am using birth control, I cannot get HIV."

The Reality: HIV can be spread during any unsafe or unprotected sex. Most forms of birth control ONLY protect against unwanted pregnancy, NOTsexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV. The only birth control method that prevents pregnancy AND significantly reduces the risk of getting HIV is the condom. For tips on how to make your sex safer, see The Well Project's article on Safer Sex.

The Myth: "I am safe because I am a virgin."

The Reality: If you have had no sexual contact at all, you are not at risk of getting HIV from sex. If you have had no sexual contact but have shared needles or drug equipment while using drugs, you are at risk. If you have had oral or anal sex, but consider yourself a 'virgin' because you have not had vaginal sex, you are still at risk. To learn more about the risks of different sexual activities, see The Well Project's article on Safer Sex.

The Myth: "Lesbians do not get HIV."

The Reality: Women who only ever had sex with women are generally at a lower risk for getting any sexually transmitted disease. But they can still get HIV. There are multiple reports of lesbians who have been infected through rougher sex or sharing sex toys with a woman living with HIV. Also, many women who consider themselves lesbians have had sex with men, and can get infected that way. Lesbians who use drugs and share drug injection equipment can get HIV from a needle or syringe that has been used by someone who is HIV+.

The Myth: "HIV can be spread through tears, sweat, mosquitoes, pools, or casual contact."

The Reality: HIV is only transmitted through infected blood, semen (pre-cum and cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The most common ways for HIV to be transmitted are through unprotected sexual contact and/or sharing drug equipment with an HIV+ person. HIV can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.

The Myth: "I can not have a baby because I have HIV."

The Reality: With proper health care and HIV drugs, women living with HIV can have healthy pregnancies. There are many things you can do to prevent spreading HIV to your partner and your baby. Advances in HIV treatment have greatly lowered the chances that a mother will pass HIV on to her baby. If the mother takes HIV drugs as prescribed and is virally suppressed, the chances of spreading HIV to the baby can be less than one in 100, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. For more information, see The Well Project's articles, Pregnancy and HIV and Getting Pregnant and HIV.

The Myth: "It is OK to have unprotected sex if both partners have HIV."

The Reality: Unprotected sex between two people living with HIV can lead one or both of them to be infected with a different strain or type of HIV. This is often called reinfection or superinfection. This can happen even when the partner you are with now is the person who originally infected you with HIV. HIV changes differently in each person's body over time. So the strain your partner had originally may not be the strain he or she has now. Different strains of HIV can be drug-resistant, which makes it hard for your treatment to work and for you to stay healthy. Practicing safer sex protects you from reinfection and infection with other STDs.

Myths About Clinical Trials

The Myth: "Clinical trials are unsafe. If I enroll in a study, I will not be allowed to leave it if I do not like it."

The Reality: You are always in control. You can quit any study you participate in at any time for any reason. Some people have heard about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was conducted before the government established strong ethical guidelines for how clinical trials should be done. The US government now has strict rules and regulations that all researchers must follow to protect participants in clinical trials. Clinical trials in other countries are subject to the rules and regulations set up by their countries' governments. In addition, all countries are subject to the rules set forth in the International Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects, which is developed by the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). For more information, see The Well Project's articles on clinical trials.

Get the Facts!

Myths about HIV are very harmful. They can cause you to be afraid of something that is not dangerous. And they can make you feel like something is not dangerous when it really is!

It is important to learn the truth and get the facts right. Sometimes seemingly well-informed or well-meaning people give out wrong information. If you have a question about HIV, talk to your health care provider, your local AIDS organization, or the CDC National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636). If you are outside the US, try finding resources in your area who can answer your questions by using AIDSmap's e-atlas.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.


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