The response to Charlie Sheen’s latest HIV infection rumors proves the stigma is alive and well


Yesterday, RadarOnline reported that actor Charlie Sheen could be facing up to eight years in jail after being accused of passing HIV to a male partner during sex. Under California law, it’s illegal for an HIV-positive person to engage in consensual sex without a condom if there is intent to transmit the virus.

Regardless of how you feel about Sheen, the situation once again raises questions about HIV stigma and criminalization.

Related: Charlie Sheen accused of passing HIV to his gay lover during sex

According to the CDC, more than 30 U.S. states have criminal HIV transmission laws, most of which were implemented during the early years of the AIDS crisis, which punish people who knowingly — and sometimes unknowingly — expose their partners to HIV without disclosing their statuses beforehand, even if their partners do not contract the virus. Punishments can range from hefty fines, to mandating a person register as a sex offender, to as much as 25 years in prison.

Related: Are Criminal HIV Transmission Laws Outdated?

Many LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activists have been working for years to have these laws stripped from the books, arguing that they are not only outdated but unfairly target gay men and other minority groups. But it’s been a very slow process. In part because the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS still lingers, as evidenced by the response to yesterday’s reported news about Sheen.

Check out how people on Twitter have been responding to the rumors…

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  • am_psi

    Oh there’s still stigma around acting irresponsibly and giving someone an incurable, costly and possibly fatal disease? Good.

    • Paco

      The same stigma should apply equally to those that don’t practice personal responsibility for their own health. Sleeping around unprotected with strangers and treating willful ignorance like some magical health shield should be just as frowned upon. Embracing stigma instead of facts hurts everyone.

    • KaiserVonScheiss

      Agreed. One can argue about whether the laws are too harsh. I don’t think it should be a sex offence, but a positive person should be required to disclose before having sex. In addition to the law, it’s common courtesy and the responsible thing to do.

      Sorry, but getting laid is not more important than someone’s health.

    • charles_bell

      If you can be sued or prosecuted for transmitting HIV, then it’s in your legal best interest to never get tested, be super contagious and pose a greater public health risk regardless of the precautions you may or may not take. The best way to end HIV is to get everyone infected on treatment and undetectable. That’s because being undetectable means no longer being contagious. That can’t happen if simply knowing your status is a legal liability.

    • pudman56

      Thanks, Paco, for being the voice of reason on this topic. Most of the tweets that were in the article only serve to prove how uninformed people still are about HIV/AIDS and their responsibility to, well, be responsible to ask before engaging in sex if it matters to them. Someone equated it to murder. So, I guess if I go up to you with a gun in my hand and inform you that I’m going to murder you, then it’s okay because I informed you.

    • Bromancer7

      The problem with this ignorant line of thinking is that it ignores all the current scientific research proving that those with HIV who have an undetectable viral load cannot infect anyone. So why should anyone have to disclose their status if it’s impossible to infect anyone? You’re much more likely to contract HIV from someone who doesn’t know they have it.

    • ChrisK

      You do realize that anyone can accuse anyone of anything. You suffer the stigma of being a judgmental asshole.

    • ChrisK

      @am_psi. At least KaiserVonScheiss is on your side. Lol

    • EquesNiger

      I’m completely lost as to what the author of this article is actually suggesting. Removing criminal prosecution for not disclosing HIV status prior to intercourse, or transmitting the disease after such non-disclosure? It’s fairly vague – almost a testing of the waters.
      There was a time when this community lead the fight to stop the transmission of HIV. Those days seem past, at least in some quarters. HIV transmission seems to be viewed today similar to mononucleosis, to some.
      Criminal prosecution for transmitting a fatal disease isn’t stigmatizing the carrier. It’s forcing the carrier to behave responsibly.
      Having survived the 90s, and lost hundreds of acquaintances to the epidemic, I’m not going to be swayed by a weak minded political agenda to treat this disease as anything but what it is: fatal without consistent access to treatment. That cannot be taken lightly.

    • ErikO

      Exactly. It’s good that there’s stigma about HIV as despite what the morons who constantly go on about how you can take toxic PREP/truvada and have all the raw sex you want with someone that’s POZ but undetectable, infection does happen and you can get other STDs as well. People who are HIV+ should be honest but most gay men who are HIV+ lie about it or just do not tell their sexual partners until after sex.

  • Doug

    There’s no way anyone having repeated sex with Charlie Sheen didn’t know he was out of control in many ways… I have very little sympathy for them if they didn’t take their own precautions. This sounds like another excuse for a $$$ lawsuit.

  • MacAdvisor

    I have long opposed these laws, even during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 80s. You and you alone are responsible for your sexual activity. If you have unprotected sex, assume you are having sex with an actively infectious person. i don’t care how convincingly the other party (parties?) say they are HIV-, assume they are positive.

    I don’t care how often some who owes me money says the check is in the mail, the bill isn’t paid until the check clears.

    • Macabre74

      All of this right here. HIV isn’t even some sort of death sentence anymore, sounds like a bunch of opportunistic bug-chasing gold-diggers if you ask me.

    • EquesNiger

      I have a similar problem with leash laws, as they unfairly target dog owners. Everyone knows that dogs only bite if another person threatens them, so it’s the fault of the bitten, not the dog or its owner. Plus, no one ever dies these days from dog bites.

  • Juanjo

    First of all this is a comment from a gossip rag. There is absolutely nothing to show a lawsuit has been filed nor any of the allegations of the lawsuit. So we do not know when this suit was filed or even if one has been filed. We do not know when the alleged sexual tryst took place nor under what circumstances If for example this sexual act ocurred prior to Sheen being aware that he was HIV+, then he is not guilty of anything other than being an out of control drug and alcohol abuser.

    Likewise while it is possible to DNA type a specific HIV infection and exclude possible infection sources but I am unaware of any test which will specifically pinpoint the specific person from whom the HIV virus originated.

  • Prax07

    Sorry but if you knowingly pass on hiv to someone you should be held accountable, and jailtime is more than acceptable to me. They should also have to pay for the person/persons medical expenses as well.

    • Paco

      Then the burden of proof that the infection came from the accused person should be on the accuser. Their sexual history and efforts to guard their health should be fully investigated instead of automatically receiving a victim label. Since it has also recently been scientifically proven that those with an undetectable viral load are unlikely to transmit the virus, that should be taken into account as well.

      Tired of people, gay men especially, sticking their heads in the sand about their risks for contracting any STI, and expecting everyone else to be the responsible party so they can be free to be as irresponsible as they want without having to take any of the blame.

    • luichiede

      Yes agreed

  • Prax07

    I don’t believe the science when it comes to undetectable=untransmittable, and I definitely wouldn’t trust anyone enough that’s claiming to be undetectable to have sex with them. It’s the ones that lie about their status and infect others that should be rightly punished.

  • Donston

    Once again, the rumor that Sheen might be getting sued from a man who claims he got HIV from Sheen is from a singular gossip rag with zero proof of any of their claims. They have had apparently no contact with this supposed male victim or any contact with any of his lawyers. They are merely reporting a rumor that they started. So, it would be nice and simply responsible if this site stops pushing that angle in order to connect his story to “our community” and in order to get clicks.

    I do believe if someone asks an individual if they have an STD and can prove that that person knew their statuses but lied to them, then yes, they absolutely have a right to sue. However, I don’t believe in jail time unless it’s a multiple offender, someone who is knowingly and actively passing HIV to other people. It may not be a death sentence any longer, but it is a life-long burden and still greatly affects your health and daily activities, particularly if it isn’t caught early. But ultimately, if you are of age you have control over your own body and, unless forced or coerced or drugged, your own sexual experiences.

    • ChrisK

      This is only natural. Charlie Sheen = Jackpotville. Of coarse if someones out playing risky sex it’s anyone’s bet. Good think charlie doesn’t live in some of the backward states where a jury would love to f*ck him over.

  • Chris

    If someone lies about their status and has sex with another person, that other person did not consent. They were raped.

    • ChrisK

      Only an idiot would think that.

    • Donston

      Eh, no. So, any time someone lies to someone else in order to have sex it’s considered rape? I do believe in punishment for people who purposely lie about their status. But it’s not rape.

    • Chris

      So rather than attacking me, how’s about attacking the argument. How can someone consent to sex if they’ve been lied to? That is the basis of lawsuits involving fraud and a whole host of other things.

  • huckchuck

    The scientific consensus is that transmitting HIV is very unlikely when the positive partner is undetectable, however the percentage of those living with HIV who are undetectable is not anywhere near 100%.

    “Under California law, it’s illegal for an HIV-positive person to engage in consensual sex without a condom if there is intent to transmit the virus.”

    Criminalizing the INTENT to transmit the virus is absolutely, completely reasonable. For those who disagree, I recommend you consider the practice of “stealthing,” where a top sabotages a condom or removes a condom during sex without the bottom’s knowledge or consent. There exists an entire subculture of men who fetishize stealthing and converting negative bottoms to being HIV positive by stealthing. There are bareback forums where men talk openly about their escapades and successes, and the stories are truly horrifying and sickening. This behavior is absolutely sociopathic and absolutely criminal.

    The modern perception is that HIV is a “manageable disease,” however how often do we read about HIV stigma (for example, this article) and the adversity that the HIV positive have to deal with on a daily basis? We do not frequently read about the health consequences that accompany HIV, for some reason, however there are opportunistic infections that affect those on HIV treatment and long-term treatment of HIV does take a tremendous toll on one’s body. The stigma, adversity, and health consequences not only cost real dollars but they also contribute to mental problems such as depression, which can contribute to lower overall lifetime earnings and a lower overall quality of life.

    Furthermore, the argument that people will not get tested in order to avoid LEGAL consequences is not backed up by any evidence nor does it make any logical sense. People do not get tested because they do not want to LEARN the consequences of their decisions. Very few people are actually prosecuted for infecting partners with HIV. Think about this for a minute–your average cum dumpster cannot compute a simple cost-benefit analysis (i.e. acquiring HIV and every other STI under the sun for the benefit of short-term thrills, often under the influence of meth), so how can they possibly be thinking about the legal consequences of their actions? That makes absolutely no sense.

    Accidents happen. Poor judgement in the heat of the moment is understandable. Intent to infect or reckless endangerment is absolutely not okay. Prep is a game changer, but not everyone can afford Prep nor can everyone take it without negative health consequences. It takes two to tango, but it’s not unreasonable to make an informed decision with the expectation that your partner answered the question “Do you have HIV?” accurately–though, of course, the truly vigilant will not trust anyone, because how can you really know that someone is undetectable or negative?

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