Five Things About HIV (They’re Not Telling You)

by Mark S. King

In the early 1990‘s, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with national public health officials. They wanted to gauge what those on the front lines were thinking about HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns. I gave them an earful.

“Why won’t you tell gay men that being a top is less risky?” I lamented. They always resisted “promoting” anything that might conceivably transmit HIV, no matter how remote the odds, and it drove me nuts. “Give us something to feel better about…” I said. “Won’t you even say that oral sex is lots safer? Why can’t you throw gay men a bone?













Gay men are still forced to piece together the latest facts about HIV, largely due to the reticence of public health messages — or in some cases, just plain homophobia.

Thank goodness for people like Sean Strub, lifelong AIDS activist and founder of POZ Magazine. In his blog posting on last month, Sean joined a chorus of advocates who are furious over a fearful New York City public health commercial. The spot says “it’s never just HIV,” and shows horrific HIV outcomes that include broken bones, insanity and even a gruesome shot of anal cancer.

Sean sees the campaign as another example of how public health gets it wrong, investing in failed “fear-based” messages while keeping a lid on information that could make a real difference.

In this video episode of My Fabulous Disease, Sean and I discuss five things we believe either represent what is wrong with prevention campaigns, or demonstrate strategies being ignored by public health officials. Pay attention to my links in this post, because I document the research and campaigns we discuss.

We refer to Swiss experts who suggest people with HIV with undetectable viral loads may be non-infectious. We discuss an infamous 1987 Australian commercial called “The Grim Reaper,” (photo, above) and refer to research that concludes that fear-based messages do not change long-term behavior.

You might enjoy comparing the difference between the NYC “It’s Never Just HIV” spot (in all its frightful foreboding) to the endearing, life-affirming Japanese campaign “Little Taiko Boy,” which presents sexuality in an honest and entertaining manner — complete with music, shirtless dancers, and a drag queen goddess! By the time the goddess presents the film’s lovers with bejeweled condom packages, I was enchanted… and happy for them and their impending bout of safer sex.

Does anything in our talk surprise (or offend) you? Did you know HIV negative people could take a drug regimen immediately after exposure (sexual and otherwise) and greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected?

Do you agree that stigma against those living with HIV may be greater now than ever before? This is an important community discussion, and I’m always up for constructive debate or dissent.

Meanwhile, my friends, please be well.

Mark S. King is an award winning columnist, author, blogger and AIDS advocate who has been involved in gay causes since the early 1980’s. He can be reached at

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