Five Common AIDS Misconceptions

Those who saw it would find it difficult to forget the Oprah show in which AIDS was discussed, or rather attacked. Men and women in the audience expressed anger and frustration at the disease, along with hatred for those who had it. An overwhelming ignorance of the disease could be discerned, as well as the lack of a desire to learn more. The angry reactions of Oprah audience members could very well describe the misinformation regarding AIDS in the United States today. Through a description of five common misconceptions people have about HIV/ADIS, a discussion of why these are misconceptions, and an identification of interpersonal dynamics that motivate people to perpetuate these conceptions, one can better understand the fact that misconceptions regarding AIDS still play a large role in the American sexual culture.

Although the American public currently has many misconceptions about AIDS, five are primary. These include the following: misconceptions regarding the way that AIDS is transmitted from person to person (Schoub 1999), misconceptions regarding the sexual practices that account for the majority of AIDS cases (Brody and Potterat 2003; Halperin 1999), misconceptions about the types of people who engage in behavior likely to result in an HIV infection (Halperin 1999; Brody and Potterat 2003), the misconception that people with numerous sex partners are more likely to be infected with HIV (Chin 2007), and the misconception that prevention programs are necessary to keep HIV from spreading into unaffected populations (Chin 2007). These misconceptions are integral in perpetuating the fear of AIDS, creating stereotypes about the kinds of people who may have AIDS and the correctness or incorrectness of a behavior because of its association with AIDS, and perpetuating misinformation about the prevention techniques associated with AIDS. According to the scientific literature, however, these statements regarding AIDS are misconceptions. For instance, misconceptions about the way AIDS is transmitted from person to person have helped fuel the fear of AIDS as exemplified in the Oprah show audience. According to Schoub (1999), however, HIV is actually a rather fragile virus that must use the "venereal route" in order to protect itself from destruction in other harsh environments (p. 91). While some circumstances have existed in which the AIDS virus has been transmitted from person to person through some method other than sexual intercourse or blood contact, Schoub (1999) suggests that these instances are few and far between. These circumstances can only occur when a certain very special conditions are present (Schoub 1999, p. 92). Although HIV is present in other body fluids, however, it can only be passed through blood, semen, and vaginal fluid that the disease can be "regularly isolated" (Schoub 1999, p.92-93). Thus, misconceptions like those during the Oprah show that perpetuated that HIV could be transmitted through other types of contact have been perpetrated.

In addition to the way that HIV is spread, misconceptions regarding who is likely to contract the virus and what kind of behaviors result in contact with the virus. For instance, many believe that homosexuals are most likely to have the disease and that anal sex among homosexuals his how the disease has been spread. In reality, heterosexual transmission is the leading cause of the AIDS outbreak in Africa (Brody and Potterat 2003). Though Brody and Potterat suggest this is among the popular belief, they also suggest that vaginal-penile intercourse is to be blamed for this. Instead, the authors suggest that heterosexual anal intercourse is generally the agent through…