Common Myths About HIV, Debunked

This content has been developed in partnership with HIV Scotland.

HIV is one of the most stigmatised Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). Find out more about it below and help break the stigma!

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that affects the body’s immune system. Over time, and without effective treatment, it weakens the immune system leaving the person who has HIV open to other infections. HIV is no longer considered a terminal illness as advances in treatments mean it is possible to live a long and healthy life with HIV.

How can I get HIV?

The HIV virus can be found in blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal and rectal secretions and breast milk. It can only be passed on if one of these fluids exits the body of someone with HIV and enters the blood stream of someone who does not have HIV. Very small amounts of HIV virus can also technically be found in saliva but not in large enough quantity to cause transmission. 

You cannot get HIV from: kissing, hugging, massage, any non-sexual physical contact, sharing cutlery, drinking from the same glass or sharing food, or from contact with surfaces such as toilet seats.

Is HIV able to be cured?

No, there is no cure for HIV. However, treatment is available to prevent viral replication which helps minimise viral damage and the chances of transmission. This means that a person may have HIV but with the right treatment, it will not be passed on. This treatment is usually as simple as a pill once-a-day for most people. People who are on HIV treatments can live full, healthy and active lives. If diagnosed early and with the right treatment someone living with HIV can have the same healthy life expectancy as someone who does not have HIV. If a person with HIV is on treatment and undetectable then they can not pass HIV on. 

How can I prevent HIV?

Although there is no cure for HIV you can protect yourself and your partner by practicing safer sex, having regular sexual health checks, or by using sterile injecting equipment. 

If a person living with HIV is on effective treatment and are undetectable then they can not pass HIV on. People who are HIV-negative can also use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV. Find out more about PrEP.

Is there still a stigma around HIV?

Unfortunately, yes – and there shouldn’t be. In the 1980’s when HIV and AIDS first appeared, there was a lot of stigma and fear, with people unsure about how and why people were contracting HIV, and so lots of blame was placed on the marginalised groups that were most affected by HIV and AIDS. Back then, AIDS caused a lot of deaths in the UK, and so people were scared and unsure. 

Today, we know more, and treatments have meant that HIV is no longer a death sentence, and living with HIV doesn’t limit your life or define you as a person. There is still a stigma that we must continue to combat, through education and having conversations using the facts. 

How can I find out if I have HIV?

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Contact your sexual health clinic or GP to arrange a test, or you can order a self-test you can do at home from HIV Test Scotland.

For more information on keeping your sexual health in check, visit our main page on sexual health.