From smash hit series ‘It’s A Sin’, to Drag Race’s Charity Kase and Trinity K Bonet publicly discussing their positive statuses, open conversation in the media about HIV and AIDs is starting to become more mainstream and less stigmatised. But even though conversation is starting to flow within the LGBTQ+ community, bi folks are still often overlooked in the discussions around HIV. There is also lots of false information and a bucketful of assumptions floating around, so for World AIDs Day this year, we’ve decided to help investigate some commonly held beliefs about HIV and those of us who fall somewhere in between gay and straight.
“Bi folks do not face as much stigma as gay folks when it comes to HIV”
Answer: Stigma around HIV is a tremendous problem, and definitely not just among gay people. In fact, one study in Australia even showed that bi men with HIV on average have more self-stigma, worse well-being and worse self-image than gay men.
One theory was that because bi folks suffer isolation in the LGBTQ+ community, they don’t feel welcome accessing the support channels and networks that many gay folks with HIV frequently rely on for support and community. So stigma is definitely still a problem, and unique problems exist for bi folks with HIV.
“Bi folks with HIV are more dangerous because they can potentially pass the virus on to all genders”
Answer: The idea of “bisexual bridging” for passing on HIV has long been a trope in media, and it’s problematic. There’s this assumption (as ever) that being bi means you’ll be spreading HIV to a lot of people because bi folks are “naturally promiscuous”… Need I say more?
The truth is that it’s difficult to get accurate information on this: for example, frequently men who have sex with men (MSM) are all lumped together for the purpose of statistics, so nuance is often lost.
Essentially more research is needed, but at the moment, most of the sources that suggest it is true are blogs or articles that aren’t backed up by any specific studies. So we’ll let you decide for yourself…
“Bi men are more likely than straight men to contract HIV”
The jury’s still out on this one. There have been some conflicting studies on this, and broad sweeping labels like MSM certainly haven’t helped with this research either.
However, what is true for sure is that unprotected anal sex with anyone puts you at higher risk of HIV than other forms of sex, particularly if you’re the ‘receptive’ partner. It’s all to do with the skin inside your bum being thin and potentially tearing slightly, causing a higher possibility for transmission of STIs.
So the conflicting studies might suggest that what and how you’re having sex is as important as who you’re doing it with. If anal sex is an important part of your sex life, make sure you’re clued up, and get tested regularly so you know your status.
“Two women having sex with each other can’t give each other HIV”
Answer: While extremely rare, there have been some instances of female-female transmission of HIV during sex. Because lots of STIs are transmitted through bodily fluids, things like sharing toys without cleaning in between partners can increase the risk of HIV and other STIs.
While there is far less HIV risk involved in sapphic sex, things like cleaning toys, discussing your status with new partners, and using dental dams can all help lower that risk (and here’s a handy guide from In The Closet if you want to find out more).
“Bi men in ‘straight’ relationships and bi women can’t take PreP“
Answer: For those of you who don’t already know about it, PreP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Essentially, it’s a pill that can protect you against contracting HIV when taken regularly following medical advice. There are also currently trials looking at introducing an injectable form of PreP that lasts for longer.
Those of you who do know about it are probably aware it’s already a popular form of protection against HIV among the gay male community. But the good news is anyone can take PreP (including folks with wombs, people on contraception, and trans folks taking hormones). It is available on the NHS, and depending on your medical history and sexual habits, it may or may not be recommended for you by medical professionals.
(Also worth noting that while PreP can provide protection against HIV, it doesn’t protect against pregnancy or other STIs.)
“Bi folks with HlV can never have unprotected sex with their partner without putting them at risk”
Answer: Rewind thirty years and perhaps this might have been true, but certainly not today in 2021. Treatment for HIV has come on so far that, if folks with HIV are medicated and have an ‘undetectable viral load’*, they can have unprotected sex without passing the virus on to their partner.
Of course practising safer sex is of course a generally good idea to protect against STIs and unwanted pregnancies, but it’s definitely no longer an impossibility for bi folks with a positive status to have unprotected sex with a partner without passing on the virus.
*while you can’t cure HIV, you can reduce its presence in your body so much that it’s not detectable or transmissible
Talking about HIV and AIDs is as important in the bi community as any other part of the LGBTQ+ community. It helps to banish stigma, start discussions about lived experiences, and helps the community to understand the reality of what challenges and assumptions folks with a positive status live with on a daily basis.
As with anything, how you have sex and what steps you take to protect yourself is entirely up to you. No sex is ever 100% ‘safe’, and the most important thing is to be clued up, educate yourself on the risks, banish the stigma, and make well-informed decisions with your partner about what’s good for you both.
Written by Maddie Jones