Charlie Sheen shared something super private on Tuesday (Nov. 17) morning: his status as a person living with HIV. The Internet-at-large was quick to became a bastion of misinformation, terrible jokes and, yes, that old nemesis -- 'slut' shaming.
Regardless of your feelings about the "Two and a Half Men" star and his #Winning past, when an individual chooses to disclose this kind of information, it warrants care and thoughtfulness in our response. When people immediately make disparaging comments about Sheen's sex life -- by making his HIV status out to be some sort of punishment for being promiscuous or speaking in insensitive and dehumanizing ways about sex workers -- it's a problem.
Not only does this kind of thinking break the Nunyabidness rule™, but it also plays into myths that are as ignorant as they are damaging. It promotes a deeply-felt stigma that inhibits many people living with HIV from disclosing their status, getting tested or being able to just live their lives in peace.
What's more, Sheen himself called sex workers "unsavory" in his letter to Matt Lauer. This, combined with the ways that others latched on Sheen's association with sex workers, plays into a damaging and dehumanizing stereotype -- one that, according to the Center for Disease Control, contributes to the lack of data from that population and which makes prevention more difficult.
HIV is not caused by promiscuity. HIV is transmitted by bodily fluids that include blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, amniotic fluid or pre-ejaculate. People don't automatically contract HIV by having sex with someone who has the virus (and, with proper treatment and care, people who are HIV positive can have happy and safe sex lives, just like everyone else).
It's vital to participate in safe sex (using condoms or other preventative measures), to not use contaminated needles or syringes and to get tested regularly. A great way to make sure people have access to this kind of information, however, is to make sure we're not promoting a climate of shame around sex and HIV.
So if your immediate instinct upon hearing the news is to shame Sheen's sex life or sex workers, you're failing in both the compassion and information departments. Just don't do it.
For more info on sexual health, head over to It's Your Sex Life.