Talking about HIV is hard, and no one expects you to know all the right things to say. But that doesn’t mean you are excused from understanding the basics — or from knowing what could offend or ostracize those living with the disease.
If you are one of the many who have been avoiding any and all discussions on HIV, it's time for a crash course in what not to say about the virus and the people who are living with it.
1. So, how did you get it?
First, this question is incredibly rude. If someone just told you they were HIV-positive, they just opened up to you in a big way. The way they got it should be the last thing on your mind. Instead, why don’t you say something like, “So, how are you doing?”
2. Can you only date HIV-positive guys now?
With TasP and PrEP (both of which prevent HIV transmission) there couldn’t be a better time to be HIV-positive and looking for love, regardless of HIV status.
3. Should you really be drinking or smoking or whatever-ing?
Drinking in excess is bad for everyone. Smoking is bad for everyone. Manage your own health and allow your friend to manage his or hers.
4. That’s what you get for making bad decisions.
Let’s settle this once and for all: When it comes to sex, everyone makes bad decisions now and then. But with HIV, the punishment hardly fits the crime. No one deserves to have HIV, and no one should judge others unless he or she has never once made a mistake in the bedroom.
5. I’ve heard HIV drug cocktails really hard on you. Is that true?
We don’t take “drug cocktails” anymore, but I will take an appletini to go with your '90s drug reference. HIV medication has advanced tremendously, and most people have few — if any — side effects.
6. I can’t believe you could be so stupid. You know how HIV is transmitted!
Stop right there and ask yourself if you have ever been “so stupid.” Oh, you have too? Exactly ...
7. I guess you just have to wear condoms from now on.
Condoms are an excellent way to have safer sex, but it’s hard for people to accept that the science of HIV has progressed. With TasP and PrEP, a couple does not have to always use condoms to prevent HIV transmission. Gasp!
8. I just couldn’t sleep with someone with HIV. It's just too risky.
If you are a gay man, chances are you already have.
9. Young kids just don’t care if they get HIV.
Even if that is true, it is because we haven’t done a good job of teaching them why they need to care.
10. All you have to do is take a pill a day, right?
That is right ... for about 30 percent of people living with HIV. But for the rest, it can be quite difficult to manage the virus due to the many financial, social, and emotional barriers that stand in the way.