Reduce stigma by improving your vocab #LanguageMatters

One of the larger issues with HIV is the vocabulary that is used in the workplace, social circles or in any other social environment. Many of us, especially HIV negative people often don’t actually know when they are using stigmatizing vocabulary, it often comes from a place which isn’t malicious but still uneducated, therefore increasing HIV stigma. As both HIV positive and negative people we can change this!

A huge stigmatizing issue I still see very often in the LGBT community is the term “are you clean?” This is another prime example where somebody would like to know your status but perhaps uses the incorrect vocabulary without meaning to and not knowing that they could actually be offending a HIV positive person. Some may even still use this term whilst knowing it is offensive and not have the common courtesy to be considerate to others feelings, especially HIV positive people. I myself have been guilty of using this phrase in the past, I had to educate and learn for myself how to correctly ask somebody what their status is and it really is as simple as “what is your status?”, however, I personally prefer to ask “are you undetectable?”, by asking this question you are giving the person living with HIV a heads up to know that you’re already educated about HIV and if it turns out you’re speaking to a negative person and they ask you what undetectable means, you now have an opportunity to educate somebody! Not only can you be culturally appropriate, you can also make a difference!

“If we spoke in a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Below is a chart originally written by multiple authors who created a ‘sign-on’ letter to be passed around to as many people as possible in hopes to reduce HIV stigma. I have also tweaked this and added some bits and I will also include this chart on HIV stigma information page which you can find here





HIV infected person

HIV patient



victim, innocent victim, sufferer, contaminated

person living with HIV
HIV infected woman woman living with HIV (WLHIV)
HIV infected mother mother living with HIV
HIV infected man  man living with HIV (MLHIV)
HIV infected infant infant with HIV/infant living with HIV
died of AIDS, to die of AIDS died of AIDS related illness, AIDS-related complications or end stage HIV
AIDS virus HIV (AIDS is a diagnosis not a virus it cannot be transmitted)
full-blown AIDS there is no medical definition for this phrase, simply use the term AIDS or stage 3 HIV
HIV virus this is redundant; use HIV
zero new infections zero new transmissions/acquisitions
HIV infections HIV transmissions, diagnosed with HIV
number of infections diagnosed with HIV
became infected contracted/acquired
HIV-exposed infant infant exposed to HIV
unprotected sex condomless sex; sex not protected by condoms or antiretroviral prevention methods such as TasP &/or PrEP
serodiscordant couple serodifferent/magetic/mixed status couple
mother to child transmission vertical transmission, perinatal transmission
are you clean? what is your status?
victim, innocent victim, sufferer, contaminated, infected person living with HIV (never use the term “infected” when referring to a person), survivor
AIDS orphans children orphaned by loss of parents or guardians who died of AIDS related complications
AIDS test HIV test
compliant adherent
prostitute or prostitution sex worker, sale of sexual services, transactional sex