Advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART) have led to major developments in HIV treatment since the 1980s. The virus is no longer a life sentence, and with effective antiretroviral medication, people can live a full and healthy life. An HIV positive person can become HIV undetectable when their viral load becomes undetectable. That happens when the amount of HIV in that person’s blood is too minuscule to be detected through testing in a lab. Consequently, this undetectable viral load means that HIV transmission is 96% less likely. Better still, there is no reason that this should change, so long as the person remains under HIV treatment and keep taking their antiretroviral medication.
There has always been too much shaming surrounding HIV. Too often gay men will judge one another based upon their HIV status, bandying about terms like “slut” and “unclean”. Those who may have tested negative five years previously, but have not taken a test since may still loudly proclaim that they’re ‘negative’. Furthermore, the same people may refuse to have sex with gay men who are HIV positive – even with a condom or any type of HIV preventing protection from fear of HIV transmission. Education is key in changing attitudes towards HIV – and this includes vital information on what HIV undetectable means, and crucially how to achieve it.
Group of gay men in West Hollywood, CA at the Aids Walk. Photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
One sadly too common form of prejudice is the view that men with an HIV undetectable status have nothing better to do than lure HIV negative men into risky sexual antics. Such an attitude conveniently forgets that both partners have a responsibility for their sexual health. The shame and blame game has never been far where HIV is concerned.
Rather than casting aspersions on the personality and sex life of a guy who is HIV undetectable, let’s look at the facts. It tells us that this is someone who has been tested for HIV. It tells us that he has then taken responsibility for his sexual health through decisive action. It also shows us that this man is undergoing HIV treatment. Moreover, he has become compliant with antiretroviral medication to such an extent that he has seen a life-changing payback – HIV is now undetectable in his blood. Surely such a guy should be applauded, not shamed.
Coming out as HIV+ is difficult. However, too many gay men are vague about their status or rely on results given years ago. Regular HIV testing is still not widespread enough. And it is only through regular HIV testing that we can combat the epidemic, by getting gay men on meds which lead to an HIV undetectable status. Those gay men who shout about being HIV undetectable are to be celebrated.
We urgently need to have further discussions about what HIV undetectable means. ‘Slut-shaming’ and dismissive, wounding terms such as ‘unclean’ must be eradicated when we talk about gay men and sex. Uninformed generalisations when it comes to HIV status are more than unproductive – they are dangerous. Similarly, stereotypes which cast HIV undetectable gay men as reckless and irresponsible over sexual health must be stamped out. The opposite is indeed the case: HIV undetectable gay men are leading the way in fighting the epidemic through openness and honesty. Furthermore, through doing so, they are challenging the destructive narrative of guilt which has surrounded HIV for far too long.
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