The XX Factor

Jenny McCarthy Applies Her Anti-Science Quacktivism to Charlie Sheen’s HIV Status

Jenny McCarthy at the American Music Awards in L.A. in 2011.

Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

“Ick,” declared famous science skeptic Jenny McCarthy on her SiriusXM radio show on Wednesday. Charlie Sheen had revealed his HIV-positive status in conversation with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, which made McCarthy think back on the years she spent playing one of Sheen’s love interests on Two and a Half Men; she shuddered to think she may have unwittingly kissed a man with HIV. “That’s not fair,” she said. “It’s scary.”

She went on to reveal what she later called a “double standard” in show biz:

Before we do a job, we have to sign a piece of paper that says, “Do you have cold sores?” You have to sign a release that says, “Yes I have cold sores.” You need to show the medication. … I’m like, wait a second, if I have to be up front about a herpe, how could you not be up front about HIV? I look back and I’m like, “OK, that would have been some valuable information.”

It’s not surprising that the woman who thinks vaccines cause autism and a gluten-free diet can cure it hasn’t absorbed the basic facts of HIV transmission. Unlike oral herpes, which afflicts the majority of people on planet Earth, HIV is all but incommunicable through kissing, especially in the kind of abbreviated smooches you might see on the likes of Two and a Half Men. And what’s more, Sheen has emphasized that, since his diagnosis, his treatment regimen has kept his viral count so low that it’s undetectable in his blood, making his chance of passing it on very slim, even through actual risky behavior.

After hearing public criticism along these lines, McCarthy addressed her remarks on Twitter:

The point I raised about Charlie Sheen on my Sirius radio show had nothing to do with whether or not I think he put me at risk. I simply took issue with a double standard in the industry. Every actress (and actor for that matter) must disclose hundreds of personal health matters before ever being allowed to set foot on a film set. Yet an actor who interacts physically with dozens of actresses in intimate scenes, is not required to disclose that he has HIV? I am very aware that HIV is not spread through kissing, but I also believe that if an actress has to disclose all of her business before kissing a male costar, that actor should be required to disclose something as major as an HIV infection too.

Unless actors are engaging in actual sexual activity that could put them at risk for HIV and other STIs—as they do in the porn industry, which requires pre-filming HIV tests—there’s no reason why they should have to submit themselves to the kind of public shame and stigma that’s risen in the wake of Sheen’s disclosure. An HIV-positive person who simply “interacts physically” with other actors isn’t doing anything reckless, and to suggest otherwise plays into the worst kind of misinformation about the virus.

But misinformation has long been McCarthy’s M.O. Her anti-vaccination quacktivism positions her as a crusading mom who’s taking on a medical establishment that preys on innocent, dutifully vaccinated sheeple, when all she’s doing is using fearmongering tactics to get more listeners to follow along.

The wildest part of McCarthy’s diatribe is that Sheen didn’t get his HIV diagnosis until after their time on the show together, so he couldn’t have disclosed a positive status even if it were required. McCarthy’s last episode with Sheen was in 2010; Sheen says he got his diagnosis about four years ago. “Charlie was infected long after he left Two and a Half Men and long after he worked with Jenny,” Sheen’s manager told People

Of course, it’s possible that Sheen could have been HIV-positive and not known it at that time; even the best HIV tests have a window period. That’s one reason why, as Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder points out, it’s safer to have sex with someone who knows his status and getting treated than someone who doesn’t. But unlike some of the porn actors and ex-girlfriends who are rightfully angered that Sheen didn’t tell them his status even when he knew, McCarthy didn’t have sex with Sheen. All she’s doing by worrying aloud is giving stigma another foothold.