Myths about AIDS put heterosexuals at risk

March 11, 2004

Dear Editor:

Even physicians don't know all the facts about AIDS. For example: I surveyed doctors and discovered that over 50 percent did not know that heterosexual women were at more risk from sex than were heterosexual men or lesbians. When a prominent Lexington neurologist heard I was a lesbian, he asked me in a panicky voice whether I'd been tested for the AIDS virus. My former brother-in-law, a heart surgeon, was unaware that woman-to-woman HIV transmission was extremely rare until he read my article on misperception of AIDS risk (Journal of Applied Social Psychology). According to the Centers for Disease Control, 75 percent of women were infected through heterosexual sex, 25 percent through injection drug use, meaning that less than 1 percent contract AIDS through lesbian contact.

In his March 4 letter, Dr. J. W. Ramey presented three other myths as facts.

Myth One: "Patient Zero," a gay male flight attendant, brought AIDS to the U.S. The CDC says this is mere urban legend. The Nature News Service, the Nursing Education Web site, and the Journal of Virology agree.


No one knows exactly when and how AIDS first hit our shores. Some theorize that AIDS arrived in 1968, 13 years before Patient Zero. Recent studies show that AIDS probably came from independent sources including Haiti, Africa, and South America, from at least three separate strains (Nature News Service).

Myth Two: Women are infected by bisexual men. Actually, most women contract AIDS from heterosexual sex or needle sharing (CDC).

Myth Three: Gay men have the highest rate of infection. Worldwide far more cases are traceable to heterosexual sex than to gay male sex. Over 78 percent of people living with AIDS are in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Almost all AIDS cases in those areas are due to heterosexual sex, needle sharing, and newborns being infected by their mothers. Even in the U.S., a full 40 percent of AIDS cases are linked to heterosexual sex or needle sharing (AIDS Epidemic Update).

The myths that Dr. Ramey and others perpetuate hurt gay people in many ways. But equally importantly, the myths put heterosexual lives at risk by lulling heterosexuals into the false belief that AIDS is a gay disease, and that unprotected heterosexual sex isn't very dangerous.

Mykol Hamilton


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