These Provocative Ads for World AIDS Day Reveal a Little-Known Fact About HIV-Positive Partners

Much more than their condition

We'd all like to be seen as more than a condition or label. There's little worse than one that defines your life.

It is little known that HIV-positive people following treatment can arrive at a point where they may no longer transmit the virus, even with unprotected sex. But the stigma of HIV remains, which makes it hard for carriers to court intimacy. 

"It is our responsibility to reveal this information to the most people possible," says Aurélien Beaucamp, president of French advocacy group AIDES. "What weighs most on the quality of life of HIV-positive people today is not the virus. It's the daily discriminations they have to suffer." 

Some 86 percent of HIV-positive people who've been tested in France, and are currently being treated, have an undetectable viral load, making it unlikely they will pass the virus on, according to AIDES. But intimate rejection remains a critical part of their lives. Per an "HIV, Hepatitis and You" inquiry carried out in March, 49.1 percent of declared discriminations happen in a sexual context.

For World AIDS Day on Thursday, AIDES and TBWA\Paris released "Revelation," a series of racy—but also curiously serene—print ads that convey everything else an HIV-positive person has to share with a partner. 

Click the ads to enlarge.

The ads reveal couples in impressive acts of multitasking—parachuting, diving, dancing and studying the piano, all while naked. In each, one partner is HIV-positive … but they're seen passing on knowledge and skill, not a virus. 

The photos were taken by Mathieu César, whose clients have included Louis Vuitton, Harper's Bazaar and British Vogue, and whose subjects are as diverse as Buzz Aldrin, Daft Punk and Natalie Portman.

"Fearing rejection, many people refrain from having sentimental or sexual relations," Beaucamp goes on. "They no longer dare talk about their pathology and avoid taking their medication in public. All these situations lock them up in a form of auto-exclusion, which is truly detrimental to their quality of life and capacity to take care of their health." 

The ads conclude with the tagline, "HIV-positive people on treatment have a lot to pass on. But not HIV." 

Unsurprisingly, "Revelation" has already received passionate reactions, most notably in Béziers, a more conservative region in the south of France, where a response campaign depicts a clothed heterosexual white couple in formal dress. 

The copy reads, "Loving one another. Giving to one another. Giving everything," coupled with the tagline, "Love should be protected." It ends with an appropriation of the French motto "Liberty, equality, fraternity"—with "fraternity" replaced by "fidelity."

The tweet above reads, "Our response to the French government's AIDS campaign. Appearing everywhere in #Béziers #fidelity." It was written by Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers, who in September notably told French news channel LCI that being French means, "in the words of Charles De Gaulle, being European, white and Catholic." 

The statement was made to lend context to his claim that 91 percent of children in some French schools are Muslim. An anti-racism organization, LICRA, submitted a complaint accusing him of hate speech. 

The backlash should feel familiar to those who've observed conservative groups leaning on romanticized vestiges of a time when society—at least the parts we saw—was a lot more homogenous. If nothing else, it's a reminder that the ideological battle we're engaged in doesn't just touch on the immediately obvious, but on more intimate aspects of our lives.