A New Conversation About HIV

Last month it was revealed that the number of people being diagnosed with HIV in Australia within the last year had risen 8%, compared to the previous 12 month period. It’s a significant rise and a sign that new strategies are needed.

The rise was not unexpected, health officials have been highlighting that increasingly we’re no longer listening to the safe sex messages, and the generation that grew up after the disease progressed to being a chronic manageable illness rather than a death sentence – don’t have the same fear that the children of the ‘80s had, or the loss of friends that the generation before suffered.

In Queensland there has recently been an advertising campaign that brought back the infamous Grim Reaper – a character that inadvertently stigmatised gay men with HIV and put an unhealthy fear of sex into a generation. This has highlighted that we don’t need to bring back the old conversations – we need new ones.

Furthermore, today’s conversations about HIV need to be wary of not creating a back lash against people living with HIV, many of whom are returning to work, living successful lives and showing that being positive is not their defining characteristic. Today we know so much more, the conversation is not simple, it’s complex.

Thinking back to when I was in my early 20’s there were celebrity backed messages of safe sex everywhere, I can remember the Red Hot + Dance video with performances from C+C Music Factory and wise words from the sublimely cool actress Amanda Donohoe. I remember Salt and Pepa re-releasing their hit song Let’s Talk About Sex as Let’s Talk About AIDS. I remember George Michael introducing the word manogamy to our vocabulary, written in red lipstick. Today I struggle to think of the last time I saw a celebrity talk about safe sex. We need to get people’s attention again.

The challenge on how to create the right conversation about HIV is not an easy one, but it’s essential that we never ever stop talking about safe sex and HIV until there is a cure.

Graeme Watson

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