HIV: Misconceptions vs Truth.
What are the facts?
Just the other day, in a pub garden in East London my friends and I were having a casual conversation about HIV. After going back and forth many times over the facts we thought we knew and then confirming on google the information we believed to be correct - something became very clear to me. There is a lot of incorrect information out there. I mean, we KNOW unprotected sex leaves us at risk of contracting HIV. We also THINK we know what HIV is and does to our bodies… but do we? As a sexually active person, I think it is very important to know the facts from the urban myths. Following this thought I decided to do some research and once and for all find out for myself what exactly is fact and what is fiction.
Is HIV the same as AIDS?
To get all scientific, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency virus and it is NOT AIDS. It was this virus that caused the AIDS scare back in the late 1980’s. HIV attacks your immune system, which effects our ability to fight infections. AIDS refers to the advanced stages of HIV. Thanks to modern treatment, the majority of people who are diagnosed with HIV will start treatment early enough and will never have their HIV progress to AIDS. You can live a long, healthy and happy life if you have HIV and are on treatment.
Does having HIV mean you're going to die?
Thanks to the advances in modern treatment this is not true. We have come a long way since the AIDS scare, and now HIV can be considered a manageable chronic illness. According to Public Health England, in 2017 there were 102,000 people in the UK living with HIV. Many of these people live very normal lives with ongoing treatment and support.
Does no ejaculation = no risk?
Now this was where I stumbled. I’ve always thought (admittedly naïvely) that if the guy you are getting intimate with does not ejaculate then there is no risk of contracting HIV. This however is not true… Studies have found that precum (a clear fluid that leaves the penis prior to the main event of ejaculation) does indeed carry HIV. So, if you are sleeping with someone carrying the virus, then their precum can put you a risk even if they do not ejaculate. For this reason, it is a good idea to ensure your partner wears a condom from start to finish.
Can HIV be passed through kissing and touching?
Come on now, that’s just stupid. People cannot contract HIV through physical contact – so go wild with kissing, touching, spudding, hugging and arm wrestling with just about anyone and there is no chance you will get HIV. In fact, the only way a person can contract the virus is by coming into contact with the bodily fluids like blood, breast milk, precum, semen, vaginal, and rectal fluids of someone who has HIV. These fluids have to come in to contact with the other person’s mucous membrane (such as mouth, rectum, vagina and penis).
"I'm straight, so HIV doesn't affect me?"
If you look into the past you will see that historically yes, HIV has been very prevalent in the LGBT+ community but that doesn’t mean that heterosexual people are exempt from catching the virus. Let’s get real. It’s 2019 – if you are hooking up with someone you don’t know that well then you don’t know who and what they have exposed themselves to. Men and women can all transmit HIV to each other. It’s nothing to do with groups of people and labels. Risk is present when any person has unprotected sex or shares needles and drug injecting equipment. So, forget labels and start taking precautions.
So, there you go. HIV myth busting lesson complete. Did we learn anything? I know I did… It is just as important to know your facts as it is to know your status. Finding out about HIV doesn’t just help you stay in control of your own sexual health; it can also help others whilst breaking down the stigma around HIV. So please go forth… share this information and have great sex.