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10 HIV/AIDS Myths

Why We're Losing Ground in the War on HIV/AIDS

"Myth" 4: Teens Are the Problem continued...

Squires says one of the biggest myths in the U.S. is that abstinence until marriage will keep people from getting HIV.

"The fact is that many young people are sexually adventuresome. Just telling them not to have sex won't help them," she says.

And there's another U.S. myth, Squires says. That's the myth that teaching young people about safe sex will make them promiscuous.

Dickinson agrees, and says that safe-sex education should start early.

"There needs to be openness in discussions about sexual behaviors and the consequences of sexual behavior. And it needs to start early in the home," he says. "Education is the most important weapon we have for this particular disease as well as for many other diseases. It is sad that we have the tools and the know-how to stop HIV since the '80s, when we first learned how it is transmitted."

"Myth" 5: Poverty and Discrimination Are the Problem

In the developing world, Shelton writes, HIV is more common in wealthier people than in poorer people. And some nations have reduced the spread of HIV without reducing poverty levels.

Dickinson strongly disagrees with the suggestion that poverty and discrimination don't matter.

"With poverty comes poor education, and with poor education people don't know how to avoid health threats," he says. "Poverty certainly is part of the HIV problem here in Miami. And discrimination drives people underground."

Dickinson says that one of the main HIV/AIDS myths in the U.S. is the myth that HIV infection no longer carries a dangerous stigma.

"HIV certainly still is a major stigma," he says. "It is a major concern for many people who have HIV -- such a concern that they will not divulge it. It is such a concern that they will not even risk finding out whether they are infected."

"Myth" 6: Condoms Are the Answer

Shelton does not downplay the major role condoms play in preventing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. But he notes that where HIV is widespread, people tend to have intimate relationships with more than one person at a time. In these regular relationships, he notes, condom use is inconsistent at best.

Dickinson says that while condom promotion certainly cannot end the AIDS epidemic, it has a tremendous impact.

"If I am faced with an epidemic, and condoms are, say, only 50% effective, that is still great. A 70% effective vaccine is one that works well. It beats the hell out of preaching abstinence," he says.

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