We have seen significant advancements in HIV treatment and prevention in recent years. However, the language used when talking or writing about HIV is often out-dated and stigmatising. Challenging and eliminating HIV-related stigma is a guiding principle of HIV Ireland and we understand the role appropriate language use has in this. These guidelines have been informed by our work and existing relevant language and terminology standards*.
The Guidelines can also be downloaded here. This is a living document that will be reviewed regularly.
|Inappropriate or Incorrect Language
|Appropriate Language or Preferred Term
|This terms implies that HIV and AIDS are the same thing or that they are interchangeable. They are not.
|HIV and AIDS
HIV or AIDS
e.g. There were 500 HIV infections this year.
e.g. PrEP is a drug that can prevent HIV infection.
|The word ‘infections’ can be viewed as stigmatising language.
There were 500 new HIV notifications this year.
PrEP is a drug that can prevent HIV acquisition.
|HIV infected person/
|A person is more than their medical diagnosis.
Use ‘People First Language’ which puts the person before the diagnosis or label.
|A person living
A person who is HIV positive
Spread the Virus
|Implied value judgement and possible associations with blame.
Become HIV positive
|Disclose/disclosing your HIV-positive status
|In this context, the term ‘disclose’ or ‘disclosing’ may imply that a person intentionally set out to conceal their status.
|Share/sharing your HIV-positive status
|Using the term ‘non-compliant’ can indicate a refusal of care. Use ‘poor adherence’ which can instead prompt an exploration of underlying reasons for this.
|HIV is no longer a death sentence
|A death sentence refers to a criminal prosecution.
|HIV is no longer a terminal condition.
|Burden of HIV
|Can suggest negative and discouraging views of living with HIV implying that being HIV positive weighs a person down.
|Challenge of HIV
|There is no ‘AIDS virus’. The virus associated with AIDS is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
|There is no test for AIDS.
Suffers from AIDS
Suffers from HIV
|The words ‘victim’, ‘suffer’ and ‘sufferer’ are disempowering and can imply powerlessness. People living with HIV are not victims or sufferers. The term ‘AIDS’ should only be used when referring to a person with a clinical AIDS diagnosis.
|A person living with HIV
|Often used to describe children with HIV, this can imply that people who have acquired HIV in other ways are guilty.
|A child/children/person living with HIV
|No one carries AIDS. AIDS is a stage of HIV infection
when a person’s immune system is damaged by HIV,
leaving them vulnerable to opportunistic infections.
|People living with HIV
People who are HIV positive
|This term implies there is such a thing as ‘half-blown
AIDS’. AIDS is simply AIDS. Referring to a term such as
‘full-blown AIDS’ is an unnecessary exaggeration.
|Died of AIDS
|This is inaccurate. AIDS is a syndrome i.e. a group of illnesses resulting from the weakening of a person’s immune system.
|Died of an AIDS related illness
|Can be stigmatising and also may imply that others are exempt from risk.
|A key population vulnerable to…
People who are disproportionately affected by…
|This term is judgemental and stigmatising.
|Engaging in an action (e.g. using non-sterile injecting equipment or sex) that can make a person more vulnerable to acquiring ….
|Prostitute / Prostitution
|These terms are very demeaning and judgemental, and the word ‘prostitute’ does not reflect the fact that sex work is a form of employment for a sex worker, not a way of life.
|Injecting drug user / Injector
|It defines a person solely on the basis of a practice they engage in.
|Person/people who inject drugs
|Can be stigmatising because it implies that HIV is dirty.
|The use of non-sterile injecting equipment.
|Men who have sex with men (MSM).
|The term MSM seeks to include men who do/may not identify as gay or bisexual and also heterosexual men who may have sex with other men. However, it’s use excludes those who do self-identify as gay or bisexual.
|Gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (gbMSM)
|MSM Community or
community of MSM
|Implies that all gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men belong to one specific social unit, identity, culture, values etc.
e.g. population of gbMSM
|An outdated term that is no longer accurate or precise when referring to reducing the risk of HIV acquisition. In addition to using condoms, people can choose a number of strategies to reduce the risk of HIV acquisition including HIV treatment and PrEP.
|Sex without a Condom;
Condomless Sex with PrEP;
Condomless Sex without PrEP;
Sex not protected by antiretroviral prevention methods.
|This term may imply complete safety. The term safer sex more accurately reflects the concept that choices and actions can be made and/or taken to reduce or minimise the risk of HIV and/or STI acquisition and transmission e.g. using condoms, using PrEP to prevent HIV, choosing to have non-penetrative sex.
|Passive / Active
|Implies sexual dominance / submission.
|Top / Bottom
Receptive / Insertive
(relating to HIV and/or STIs)
|Stigmatising of those with HIV and/or STIs. Implies that those with HIV and/or STIs are ‘dirty’.
All results clear
(relating to drug use)
|Stigmatising and implies that people who use drugs are ‘dirty’.
|Clean, dirty (referring to drug test results)
|These terms are stigmatising because they associate symptoms of a condition (positive drug tests) with being dirty.
|A promiscuous person
|A judgemental term that should be avoided.
|Has multiple partners
|Stigmatising and offensive slang terms.
|Stigmatising and offensive slang terms.
|Outdated, slang and sometimes offensive.
|Drug Addicts / Drug Abusers
|These terms are seen as derogatory and disrespectful. They label a person solely by a condition. The terms imply moral judgement. Using person first language recognises our collective humanity.
|Person/People who use drugs
|Any racialised terms
|Outdated and can cause offense.
|People / person of colour
*HIV Language Guide (George House Trust)
Version 1.3 (updated September 2020)