Myths and stigma around HIV and sex

A myth is a story that many people know or have heard about, but that is untrue.

There are various myths about HIV and sex, for example, that you can no longer have sex if you have HIV. Or that you can’t have children if you are HIV-positive. Both are untrue. Other untrue stories are that doctors talk about your health with others. This isn’t right either. Finally, some parents believe that you don’t have to educate young people about sex because they’re not having sex. This isn’t true either and below you can find out that well-informed young people are more careful about sex and wait longer. 

Stigma

Finding out that you are HIV positive is difficult to deal with and it takes time to process the news. In spite of the fact that there are effective medicines to combat HIV, learning to live well with HIV is sometimes complicated. This may be because of your symptoms, particularly if you are not taking any medication, of if no medication is available.

Living with HIV can also be complicated because in some cultures there is a major taboo and stigma surrounding HIV. For example, in African cultures, it is often seen as a huge disgrace if a person contracts HIV. Contracting HIV is quickly associated with a promiscuous sex life. This doesn’t have to be the case and anyway it makes no difference how you contract HIV. Nevertheless, it is mostly women who run the risk of being stigmatised or even banished from their community. Out of shame and fear, many people therefore stay silent. You are too frightened to get tested and as a result find out far too late that you have HIV. Damage to your health can often be avoided by earlier testing and treatment.

Once again: it makes no difference how you contract HIV. It is much more important that you are treated quickly and with the appropriate medication.

Fear of testing and treatment

In the Netherlands, all doctors and nurses have a duty of confidentiality. This means that details about your health cannot be shared with others, not even family members, without your permission. If you are found to have HIV or another STI, a doctor cannot tell other people indiscriminately.


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Sex, relationships and children

Women are particularly afraid that if they are HIV positive they will no longer be able to have a relationship or have sex. It is often thought that a woman can no longer have children if she is HIV positive. Fortunately, this is a myth and therefore incorrect. Even if you have HIV, you can have sex and relationships. By using a condom, you can prevent HIV from being transferred and from becoming pregnant or getting your partner pregnant. In nearly all cultures, it is important to have children, particularly for women.

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HIV positive and still have children

It is perfectly possible to have children without them contracting HIV if you are HIV positive, which is excellent news. The chance of HIV being transferred to your baby during pregnancy or birth is less than 2% if you take HIV medication There is also the option of washing sperm, to remove the HIV virus and to use the sperm for conception. If you are HIV positive and are thinking of having a baby (or your partner), talk to your HIV specialist nurse.
 

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Young people and sex

In certain cultures, sex is only supposed to take place within a marriage between a man and a woman, so they don’t believe in educating young people about sexuality. However, the reality is different. Young people discover their bodies and start to experiment with sex. This has always happened and applies to all cultures. This is part and parcel of the phase they are in, which is why it is a good idea to educate young people.

Well-informed: better prepared

Research has shown that if you are well-informed, you are better prepared and you also have a reduced risk of contracting HIV or another STI. Furthermore, informed young people start having sex at an older age than young people who have not had any sex education. Parents and carers can act responsibly by giving young people the right information. It is always better to have safer sex with a condom than to have unprotected sex.

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