One would think that since HIV/AIDS has been around for more than 30 years, we know the basics about this disease. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in the age of the Internet and smart phones, ignorance around HIV still exists. For National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we break down some of the biggest lies about the epidemic. —Kellee Terrell
Myth 1: The “Down Low” is Why So Many Black Women Have AIDS
Yes, Terry McMillan, Tyler Perry, Bill Dukes and even Law and Order: SVU dedicated some time to “educating us” about the “Down-Low,” but please don’t fall for the okey-doke. Closeted Black gay men DO exist, but the science is clear: That is NOT the reason why HIV disproportionately affects heterosexual Black women. Hint: Straight men have HIV too.
Myth 2: HIV-Positive Women Can’t Have Babies
For decades, women living with HIV have been giving birth to HIV-negative babies. Yes, there was a time when mother-to-child transmission was high, but in the U.S. these rates are all but eliminated. Being linked to care, not breastfeeding, and being put on AIDS meds during a woman’s pregnancy greatly reduces to chances of a baby developing HIV.
Myth 3: Magic Johnson Doesn’t Really Have HIV
Since his 1991 disclosure, there has been this persistent belief that he either never had HIV or has been cured. Both are simply untrue. Yes, he has been living well with the disease for over 20 years, but he credits that to his antiretrovirals and access to quality health care.
Myth 4: You Can Get HIV from Spitting, Scratching and Kissing
Nope. Blood, semen, vaginal and rectal secretions and breast milk are the only modes of HIV transmission. HIV can only be transmitted when one of these fluids from someone with HIV enter a negative person’s body through mucous membranes, cuts, open sores or tears in the skin.
Myth 5: The Government Has A Cure and Other Conspiracy Theories
It’s not like Black folks don’t have good reason to buy into any these thoughts. (Think: Tuskegee Experiments and Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells.) But when it comes to AIDS, its been well documented that the government didn’t engineer it and there isn’t a cure they’re withholding from us.
But we can be mad about what keeps this disease so prevalent in our community: Disproportionate poverty; mass incarceration; lack of access to quality health care, and systematic racism to name a few.
Myth 6: Monogamous Folks Don’t Get HIV
HIV is not a disease for the “promiscuous.” So being in a monogamous relationship or thinking your relationship is monogamous doesn’t protect you either. (Especially if neither one of you has been tested, you are unaware of your status, and/or one of you is stepping out). People in monogamous relationships actually have an increased HIV risk, because they are more likely to ditch condoms.
Myth 7: Birth Control Protects Women From HIV
Hormonal birth control (pills, IUD, patch, etc,) DOES NOT protect women from HIV—even a diaphragm won’t. Latex condoms (or abstinence) are the only birth control methods that will protect you from HIV transmission.
Myth 8: I Can Tell If Someone Has HIV
What does HIV look like? You really don’t know. Someone who is healthy, fit and muscular or curvy and pretty can be HIV-positive too. The best way to protect yourself from the virus isn’t by superficial bias, but by condoms and knowing your status.
Myth 9: Women Cannot Transmit HIV to Men
It may be biologically harder for a woman to transmit HIV to a man during unprotected sex, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—or that it doesn’t happen. During sex, HIV can enter a man through the tip or if he has a cut or abrasion on his penis. Not to mention, if that man has an untreated STD that raises his chances of seroconverting too.
Myth 10: HIV/AIDS Is a Death Sentence
It doesn’t have to be. Thankfully since the development of antiretrovirals in the mid ‘90s, HIV doesn’t automatically mean death anymore. Yes, people still die of complications of AIDS, but the key to reducing those numbers is getting people tested early and putting them on life-saving treatment so they can live a long and prosperous life.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Chicago-based freelance writer who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Her articles and interviews have been featured in BET.com, Essence, The Advocate, The Root, Glamour, Al Jazeera, The Body and The Huffington Post.