Making the Most of the Sheen HIV Spotlight: Share the 'New Basics' of HIV

JD Davids
JD Davids

In the most publicized news event on HIV in the last decade, Charlie Sheen took to the Today show to confirm the truth: He is living with HIV.

But with his individual revelation, a broader and ultimately more significant truth emerged: The realities of HIV today are drastically different from the dated concepts of the public imagination. In the HIV community, it's now our job to move forward with clarity and commitment in sharing the new basics of HIV.

HIV in 2015 is easily treatable, readily preventable and people with HIV are the solution -- not the problem -- in ending the epidemic.

The barriers that remain are primarily economic and social, with stigma, criminalization, and lack of access to treatment and public health resources fueling the sustained epidemic.

Before Sheen's Today interview, the picture of HIV among so many was rooted in beliefs and images cemented no later then Magic Johnson's 1991 disclosure or the early days of combination therapy with its handfuls of carefully timed pills -- if not the "death sentences" of the pre-antiretroviral (ARV) years.

But Sheen's story is all about HIV in 2015. Central are undetectability, treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) -- plus acute and pervasive stigma, fear and threats of criminalization.

And thus, facts have began to emerge that could fundamentally force the nation to recognize the new basics of HIV. By the evening of Sheen's announcement, even the hyperbole-heavy New York Post had an accurate and thorough Q&A with AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention's Mitchell Warren on the new trilogy for stemming HIV: treatment, undetectability and PrEP.

Thanks to Sheen, I've been able to share information with reporters who were surprised -- and excited -- to learn about the low pill count of many ARV regimens, the use of PrEP for safe conception with serodiscordant partners and other facts that are now so familiar to many of us in the thick of HIV work.

World AIDS Day ushers in a time of year-end reflection -- and for many, holiday gatherings with friends and family unfamiliar with this information, to put it mildly. And the lead-up to this summer's AIDS 2016, the massive international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, extends our opportunity to bring a much needed update to the broader understanding of what it means to combat HIV in 2015.

So let's use this time to wrench the message of HIV out of the last century. Here are some of our favorite tools for doing so.

Throughout the history of HIV, the condition has had a profound impact on relationships. But today, we have the science on HIV and prevention to drop the fear of infection and to love out loud. New treatment options and more choices for effective HIV prevention are bringing partners together -- forging stronger ties, deepening intimacy and, yes, helping sex feel better, too.

  • Overcoming Depression and Drug Use, Living Boldly With HIV: Aaron Laxton
    After a traumatic childhood, Aaron Laxton had to overcome a military discharge, depression and drug use to come to terms with his HIV diagnosis. Now a popular video blogger and spokesperson, he lives a healthy and vibrant life with his HIV-negative partner Philip and works with homeless veterans facing similar challenges. In this immersive video, Aaron and Philip share their story.

More to Come

In the days, weeks and months ahead, we'll keep gathering information, perspectives and stories on our HIV prevention portal. And our experts remain poised to answer your questions -- or your uncle's or your mother-in-law's co-workers' husbands' questions -- in our Ask the Experts forums. We've also got a collection of HIV community content about Charlie Sheen.

As we move forward in this new era, we invite you to contribute materials or perspectives, and always welcome your suggestions of what to include and how to continue to serve our audience.

JD Davids is the managing editor for and