Unlike during the 1990s, it might seem that no-one is dying of AIDS now. People living with the virus are looking healthier, and in New South Wales HIV infection rates have stabilised.
But the pool of people living with HIV is larger than ever, and infection rates have risen sharply in other areas of Australia and around the world in recent years.
This summer’s campaign by HIV/AIDS prevention and support network ACON hopes to address myths people might have about gay men’s health today, and give men having sex with men The Big Picture about the HIV epidemic.
The Big Picture website answers common questions and assumptions gay men might have about HIV, including ‘HIV isn’t that much of an issue these days’ and ‘When are HIV infections most likely to happen?’
Another question sometimes asked is: “Is it true that HIV only affects older gay men?”
As the graph below of 2010 HIV infections in NSW shows, the virus can affect anyone, regardless of their age – Many men were in their 30s and 40s when they are diagnosed with HIV; however, men in their 20s also make up a big part of HIV diagnoses each year.
ACON’s Director of Community Health Geoff Honnor hopes the Q&A’s in The Big Picture will stimulate discussion – and possibly more questions, which ACON are happy to answer.
“The epidemic is ever-evolving so it’s important to keep guys in the picture,” he says. “As a community, our level of HIV-related knowledge is pretty good, though as always, it varies between individuals and there’s still a few surprisingly common misconceptions kicking around.
“But overall, thirty years into it, the continuing resilience of gay guys – poz and neg – in this state in responding to HIV is pretty impressive. In fact, the comparative success attributed to the NSW HIV response owes a lot to that resilience and it could do with more acknowledgement.
“So, in offering information updates, The Big Picture also acknowledges the importance of the informed choices that gay men make about maximising pleasure and minimising risk – choices that ultimately deliver better outcomes for all of us.”
Using condoms and water-based lube for anal sex, and getting regular sexual health checkups, is the best way to protect yourself against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.