The HIV myths that need to take a hike

Dr Rhys Young wears a black shirt in his office while smiling at the camera. HIV mythbusting.
Image: Dr Rhys Young

Stigma can overshadow the truth when it comes to HIV. Dr Rhys Young breaks down some common myths. 

How much do you know about HIV? Do you limit your sexual partners based on their HIV status? Are you confident in your HIV & STI prevention? 

Unfortunately, stigma can often overshadow the truth, and HIV still has its fair share of stigma. So let’s do some HIV mythbusting.

I just need condoms to protect against HIV transmission

Ah, condoms – the unsung heroes of safe sex. But remember, they’re not the only players in the game. Enter PrEP, short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s a game-changer – a medication that, when taken consistently, can add another layer of protection. PrEP isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal either. Some folks take it daily, while others follow an on-demand strategy, where they take it before and after potential exposure. It’s all about what suits your lifestyle and needs. 

I should only get tested for HIV if I’m showing symptoms

Imagine only checking your bank account when your wallet feels light – that’s a recipe for financial disaster. Many STIs like HIV can play hide-and-seek in your system without waving any red flags. Getting tested regularly is your golden ticket to catching any unwelcome visitors before they throw a wild party in your body. Regular testing is the responsible adulting you didn’t know you needed.

Testing negative for HIV means that I can have unprotected sex

Hold your horses, tiger! Testing negative for HIV isn’t a ticket to throw out your condoms or a free pass for unprotected escapades. There’s this thing called the “window period,” a tricky timeframe where the virus could be laying low even though the test is negative. It’s like trying to spot your keys in a messy room – they could be here somewhere… So, even though you’ve tested negative, remember that staying vigilant and practising safe sex is the ultimate winning strategy.

I can avoid HIV transmission by only having sex with people who are negative

The idea that sticking exclusively to HIV-negative partners will guarantee your own negative status is a narrative that needs rewriting. It fails to account for various factors, such as testing frequency, accurate knowledge, and the effectiveness of prevention methods. It also perpetuates stigma against people living with HIV by suggesting they’re the sole carriers of risk. The truth? Prevention is a shared responsibility that involves multiple layers of protection – and that could be PrEP, condoms or U = U (more on that in a second). 

But isn’t having sex with someone living with HIV high-risk?

No, it’s time to clear the air on this one. Having sexual relations with someone living with HIV isn’t automatically a high-risk venture. Thanks to modern medical breakthroughs, we now have a game-changer: “U = U” – Undetectable = Untransmittable. It means that if a person with HIV maintains an undetectable viral load through consistent treatment, the chance of transmitting the virus drops to zero, even without using condoms. It’s like entering a water balloon fight armed with a bazooka – you’re so prepared that the risk of getting splashed is practically non-existent.

Dr Rhys Young specialises in LGBTIQ and sexual health. Follow @drrhysyoung on Instagram for health updates.

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Dr Rhys Young

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