Inclusive Communication: 6 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Living With HIV


On World AIDS Day, as a part of our Inclusive Communication series, we wanted to talk about talking to people living with HIV. For most part, people don’t understand the difference between HIV and AIDS. HIV is a virus that attacks the human immune system. Becoming HIV positive doesn’t automatically mean that a person has AIDS. In fact AIDS is a term used for a collection of infections and illnesses that occur in the late stage of not being treated for HIV. Often, those who develop AIDS don’t get themselves tested for HIV and aren’t even aware that they are HIV+

With the advancement of medicine, people with HIV can be treated and AIDS can be prevented. So, when someone DOES disclose to you that they are HIV+, there are a few things you never ever should, under any circumstance ever, say.

1. How did you get it?

None of your goddamn business! I mean we’re sure you’re curious, but that is private information, and it is not your place to ask a HIV+ person how they got infected! If they ever feel the need to disclose that information to you, we are fairly sure they will initiate that conversation themselves. Until then, it is best you don’t ask them!

2. You don’t look like you have HIV.

It is a common misconception that people who have HIV should “look sick”. People with HIV just have compromised immune systems, and look perfectly normal, so there is no need for you to make this comment!

3. I’m sorry to hear that

A majority of people still believe that HIV is a terminal illness. The reality of this couldn’t be further away. Treatments for HIV are so advanced that with proper treatment people with HIV can live normal life and prevent HIV from turning into AIDS! Please don’t give HIV+ people your pity, they don’t need it.

4. So, you can’t have sex ever again?

Another widely spread common misconception! People with HIV can have healthy sex lives, in fact most of them do! Antiretroviral medications can help to slow damage caused by HIV infection, and as long as their viral loads remain undetectable, they can have plenty of sex! Plus, condoms exist, and are a great tool at helping prevent the spread of all kinds of STDs, not just HIV!

5. How long have you got left?

Please remember, HIV is NOT a death sentence! In 1996, the total life expectancy for a 20-year-old person with HIV was 39 years. In 2011, the total life expectancy bumped up to about 70 years. A person only develops stage 3 HIV, also known as AIDS, when their immune system is too weak to defend their body against infections. This is easily prevented by treatment. Please don’t ask this question because it is rude, and shows that you are ignorant!

6. So, you can’t have a family?

Modern medicine has advanced so much that people with HIV can have healthy HIV free children. There are many methods available for people living with HIV to conceive safely if they want to start a family. People living with HIV can even give birth without passing on HIV to their baby. Like we said — the marvels of modern medicine!

Overall, our advice to you when communicating with someone who has HIV is — don’t be insensitive and ignorant! If you are unsure about whether something you want to say or ask might offend them, depending on your relationship with that person, you can either apologise in advance for what you are about to say because you are unsure if it is offensive or not ask them at all and google it instead.

Are there any other things you think people shouldn’t say to people living with HIV? Leave a comment below!



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