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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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10 HIV/AIDS Myths

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

"Myth" 3: Men Are the Problem

Shelton notes that in areas where HIV is widespread, women are just as likely as men -- in some areas, more likely -- to be the sexual partner first infected with HIV.

Kathleen Squires, MD, director of infectious diseases at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, says the myth in the U.S. is that HIV is a disease of gay men.

"If you look at newly diagnosed HIV infections, the proportion among women has steadily risen," Squires tells WebMD. "This clearly impedes diagnosis -- and prevention messages. Moreover, HIV disproportionately affects women of color and women in disadvantaged populations."

"Myth" 4: Teens Are the Problem

If HIV prevention efforts emphasize preaching abstinence to teens, they won't have much effect on the epidemic, Shelton suggests. He notes that people of all ages get and spread HIV -- and that where HIV is epidemic, HIV becomes more common among women in their 20s and older.

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.

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