Non/infectious corporealities: tensions in the biomedical era of ‘HIV normalisation’


Address for correspondence: Asha Persson, National Centre in HIV Social Research, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, John Goodsell Building, Room 310, The University of New South Wales, Kensington, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia


In the contemporary HIV epidemic, antiretroviral treatments are increasingly considered so effective at viral suppression that they render people with HIV sexually non-infectious. With its radical implications for global HIV prevention, this emerging paradigm is invested with the potential to turn the epidemic around and to ‘normalise’ one of the most feared infectious diseases in history, thus echoing wider trends of ‘biomedicalisation’. What remains unexamined is whether this paradigm shift will bring about a parallel shift in the embodied experiences of being HIV-positive. This article explores the nascent trajectory from infectious to non-infectious corporeality against the backdrop of the discursive history of HIV, with particular focus on the landmark Swiss Consensus Statement, and in the context of research with heterosexuals with HIV in Australia. In-depth interviews revealed that HIV corporeality was not a stable, homogenised experience across participants and time, nor did it simply follow medical discourses. Instead, HIV corporeality emerged as a contingent set of tensions between conflicting discourses of infectiousness that were negotiated and made sense of within situated and embodied life histories. These findings pose challenges to the imperative of HIV normalisation and the related tendency in HIV prevention to universalise the notion of ‘infectiousness’.