HIV/AIDS in the black community is an epidemic. Blacks only make up approximately 12 percent of the United States population, yet we account for half of the HIV diagnosis. Black women are 61 percent of all new HIV cases, among women in this country. The harsh reality is 1 in 30 women will contract HIV at some point in her life compared to 1 in 106 Hispanic women and 1 in 526 White women. Whoa. Clearly there is something wrong with the way we approach gender and social equality when it comes to preventing HIV. It is vital that we understand and acknowledge how these social and gender inequalities shape the way we think, approach, and treat this disease.
A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced several studies about the myths and misconceptions of HIV/AIDS rates among Black women and if the high rates were traced back to “down low” black men. The studies proved that this idea was flawed. The studies have shown there wasn’t any proof that black men were secretly having sex with men at greater rates than white men who have sex with men. The studies have also proven there wasn’t any proof that Black women were engaging in more risky sexual behaviors than White women, yet White women are not being infected with HIV at the alarming rates like Black women. Black women do not have the access to regular and comprehensive health care like their White counterparts. Public health practitioners have to understand the dynamics in a relationship can be very complicated. There is a blind trust that exists even when a partner’s actions are not reasonable or respectful. There is also a blatant fear when it comes to suggesting condoms to be included in the sexual act (“Come on baby, don’t you trust me?”) instead of discussing sexual health in a confident manner with their partner. I know it can be extremely uncomfortable to ask your partner about their past sexual history or even share yours but it is that specific information that needs to be shared. It can save your life.
Promoting abstinence, as my grandma would say, “Is just not going to cut it.” Relying on abstinence only education puts people is danger of making damaging choices. Let’s face it, sex is going to happen. People are sexually active, enjoying sex and talking about sex. Sure, abstinence is an 100% effective way of stopping the spread of HIV. Seriously, who are we kidding? Sex isn’t going to stop and who wants it to? There are other ways of protecting ourselves and reducing the risk of contracting and spreading HIV:
- Know your status. It is scary to be screened for HIV. You will sit in an empty room, alone with your thoughts, thinking about all of the sexual partners you have had in the past. The thoughts will drive you crazy but knowing is worth all of that. The test is quick and painless. It is a simple swab of your mouth. Promise.
- Know your status…together. Talk about HIV testing and safer sex…together. Go to your local community health clinic or primary care physician…together and get tested…together.
- Be informed. Know your partner’s history. Ask questions and lots of them. Don’t worry about being nosey! This is your body and you have the right to know. Get the information about their sexual history and their current sexual practices.
- Practice the safe sex that you discussed with your partner. Use male or female condoms and dental dams for vaginal, anal and oral sex every…single…time. Have protected sex, always. Even if your partner says, “Don’t worry about it, I’m safe.” Sex isn’t an Usher song…use a condom.
- Don’t share needles. Drug needles is not the only type of needles to be concerned about. This includes piercing needles or tattoo needles. In this case, sharing is not caring.
The high rates of HIV/AIDS among black women contribute to a mixture of things. Understanding the Social Determinants of Health, which are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, is important in understanding how diseases are spread in the Black community. The social determinants of health are more significant than any behavioral or genetic disposition. Understanding this can assist with how we approach this epidemic. Simply addressing only the behavioral factors increase stigma in the community, this implies that bad decisions and bad choices are the blame for one’s health outcomes. If we change the way we think and build awareness about the political, economic and the social conditions that plague people of color, it could eliminate the stereotype of how people contract HIV/AIDS and it could change our stereotypes of people of color and their health conditions.