Living With HIV: Refinery29 Interviews 6 Women About Their Experiences

December 1 marked World AIDS Day and, to raise awareness and note the progress made in the 26 years since the day was established, Refinery29 interviewed six women currently living with HIV. The women discussed initial discovery and diagnosis, dating and marriage, telling friends and family, and what living with the disease is like for them.

According to the CDC, AIDS related deaths have dropped 35 percent, from 2.4 million in 2005 to to 1.5 million in 2013. Pediatric HIV infections have also fallen 58 percent since 2001, to 240,000 in 2013. However, there are about 1.2 million people in the US, and more than 35 million people worldwide, living with HIV.

The interviews help to not only put faces and reality to the numbers of people living with HIV, but they also address some of the stigmas and misconceptions that remain about HIV/AIDS. Although HIV understanding and treatment has improved over the years, there is still room for improvement when it comes to prevention, discrimination and general knowledge of who the virus is really affecting. Here are some poignant quotes from the interviewees.

If you hear a woman has HIV, you think it was because of drug use or being promiscuous, but that’s not the case. – Carolyn, 46
It’s funny, I consider it a blessing in a way. I wasn’t worried about my health before, but it was a wakeup call. – Shakira, 24
I was 20 when I decided to finally become public about it. For three years, I’d had questions and no one to ask them to: Am I the only girl with it? Am I the only black girl with it? Am I the only girl at 17 with it? – Lolisa, 27
There’s still a lot of stigma; HIV’s related to sex and drugs, which are two things that make you “not a good person.” But really, really? Bullshit. Own your humanity and don’t judge people. I don’t care if I slept with 13,000 people and did heroin every day; I’m still a person. And, I might be a better person than you. – Sara, 54
I remember my grandmother told me a long time ago that everybody has something going on. This is just part of my struggle. When I found out, I didn’t think I would be around this long — but here I am. I’m 29, healthy, and living life. You can, too. – Paris, 29

Read the full article at Refinery29.

Images: Lauren Perlstein/Refinery29 (2)