The Stigma Surrounding HIV/AIDS Is Harmful For Everyone

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Changes in US laws in recent years have crept closer to making being HIV-positive a crime. The solution to reducing the spread of HIV is safety and education.

hiv_candle_ribbon

Photo: Trygve Utstumo (Trygve.u) on Flickr

A ribbon of candles glows during an HIV/AIDS awareness event.

Changes in US laws in recent years have crept closer to making being HIV-positive a crime.  However, the solution to reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS is safety and education, not isolating people living with HIV and AIDS from the rest of society.

Is An HIV-Positive Status A Crime?

Feminists for Choice reports on their blog that an HIV-positive man living in Iowa was arrested for having sex with his partner without the use of a condom – and failing to notify his partner of his HIV-status.  As POZ Magazine reports, the man is being held for a cash-only $50,000 bond and faces up to 25 years in prison – a “Class B” crime under Iowa law regardless of whether HIV is actually transmitted to the man’s partner.  A month ago, Trevorade reported on an HIV-positive man living in Michigan who faces charges of terrorism for biting another person during a scuffle.  Also in Michigan, it is currently legal to bar HIV-positive inmates in prison from working in the kitchen.  Earlier this year, fellow Kinsey Confidential blogger, Natalie Ingraham, mentioned other cases of criminalizing HIV-positive individuals’ contact with other people.

Isolation Is Not The Answer

Certainly, people should be cautious about the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.  But, legally and culturally barring people living with HIV and AIDS from contact with others is not the answer.  It seems many in the US would rather have no contact whatsoever with people who are HIV-positive, especially sexual contact.  Making it illegal to come in contact with food if one is HIV-positive has the potential to lead to a shift in laws making it illegal for people living with HIV and AIDS to work many jobs: doctor, nurse, childcare, food service, any job in which something as simple as a sneeze may be a concern.  Equating unprotected sex with others when you’re HIV-positive with terrorism sends the message that people living with HIV and AIDS are disgusting and should be stigmatized and avoided at all costs; it also demonizes them, giving the impression that they seek to intentionally transmit HIV to other people.

Safety, Communication, And Education Are Key

Avoiding and isolating HIV-positive people further stigmatizes them and maintains stigma around HIV.  Silence surrounding HIV and AIDS and the assumption that one has successfully avoided contact with HIV-positive people  can lead people to feel that they are not at risk for infection, which can mean comfort in not getting regularly tested for HIV and sexually transmitted infections and regularly using condoms (either female or male) and other safe-sex practices.  It is crucial that individuals educate themselves about safe sex practices, use them effectively, and maintain open communication with their sexual partners.  Further, we, as a country, must remove the stigma surrounding HIV, as it is key to reducing the secrecy and mystery of HIV that exacerbates the transmission of the disease.

In 2010, I recommend that everyone gets tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections to know their status.  (There are a number of places that will do this for free or for a low cost.)  Educate yourself about sexual health and safe-sex practices.  And, be sure to keep an open line of communication with your sexual partners – share with each other your sexual health status, what safe-sex practices will you use, and what sexual activities you want do and you comfortable doing.  Happy and Healthy New Year!

Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

received his PhD in sociology at Indiana University. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond. Dr. Grollman's research interests lie in medical sociology, social psychology, sexualities, and race/gender/class. You can see his personal blog at http://egrollman.com.
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Comments

  • http://www.losingmytransmission.com bettysmorgas

    I thought the number of HIV+ cases to be shrinking dramatically in the USA. Correct me if I am wrong. There will always be a stigma attached, right or wrong, just because of the disease's association with taboo sexual practices. Making it illegal in any way is way off the deep end though, except when a person engages in unsafe activity without informing his or her partner of any disease that is transmittable. I'm out