Dating apps have toyed with the idea of including HIV filters allowing users to block guys based on their reported HIV status for a while now, and to a mixed responses. Most notably is Grindr, which jumped on the bandwagon back in July, resulting in pretty widespread outcry. Many felt the purposed filter only served to further stigmatize HIV/AIDS and acted as a form of “digital quarantine.” But according to blogger Alex Garner, the issue extends beyond just that.
In a new post titled Undetectable: Fear, Filters And Grindr, Garner argues that it’s not just the existence of an HIV filter that is the problem but, he writes, “why men feel the need to use such a filter in the first place.”
“Filtering is simply an act of ignorance and fear,” he says. “Avoiding someone who knows that they are HIV-positive is a bad strategy for staying negative. The science is overwhelmingly clear: if someone is undetectable, meaning the amount of virus in the blood is so low it can’t be detected, it’s virtually impossible for the virus to be transmitted.”
He then adds that, thanks to modern medicine, there are many ways a person can protect themselves from HIV, including PrEP, PEP and, oh yeah, good, old-fashioned condoms.
Garner also points out another pretty glaring problem with HIV filters: They rely on the honor system.
“It’s bad science and simply doesn’t work to eschew poz guys while taking risk with guys who might think they are negative,” he says. “Someone may believe they are HIV-negative but actually be undiagnosed as HIV-positive and have a very high viral load.”
Garner thinks part of the problem is that many people don’t fully understand “undetectable” means. The Prevention Access Campaign defines is as such:
A person living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) with an undetectable HIV viral load in their blood for at least six months has a negligible risk of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner. Negligible means: so small as to not be worth considering; insignificant. Therefore, when describing the risk of HIV transmission HIV experts have said: “not infectious”, “virtually zero risk” and “cannot transmit the virus.”
“There have been tremendous advancements in HIV science in the past few years but much of it hasn’t been successfully conveyed to the general public,” Garner writes. “Fear and ignorance about HIV and undetectability stretches to all corners of the internet.”
So what can be done about this? Turns out, the answer is pretty darn simple.
“Facts are the best remedy for ignorance,” Garner says. “Our community has done a relatively good job of educating people about the facts of PrEP. Almost every major HIV organization has invested in PrEP education efforts for various communities vulnerable to HIV. We should be able to invest the same community education efforts around what it means to be undetectable.”
Garner concludes by saying that each of us has a choice.
“We can avoid the facts or we can choose to educate ourselves about the latest science,” he writes. “We can filter poz guys or we can engage in meaningful conversations with one another about HIV. We can create more and more barriers to keep us apart or we can choose to bring people together to improve our health and strengthen our community.”
Related: Honest Confessions From Men With HIV