Why is it that we have so much information about how to prevent HIV however new infections continue to happen across the board? Is it because of ignorance, poor education, or lack of trying to promote the message?
In some populations here in the US, the number of HIV infections is heavily on the rise, including the gay community. Some studies show an alarming 50% of gay men either do not use condoms or use them inconsistently. In the hetero community numbers are just as staggering with condom use being almost as low as our LGBT counterparts, with lower rates of condom usage amongst impoverished heteros as well as a disproportionate number of African Americans/Latinos. So across the board it is safe to say that people are not using condoms as consistently as they should. Why is this ?
One of the driving factors of people not using condoms, despite knowing the consequences, is the lack of fear that exists now regarding HIV/AIDS. Before I was even born, many were watching their friends and family die of AIDS left and right. The faces of those living with AIDS were plastered across the news. The images of those battling pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, and bodies riddled with the purple lesions of kaposi’s sarcoma may have long left the minds of many.
For those who saw these things happen first hand, it is something that will never be forgotten, however for the overwhelming majority of North Americnsa, it has become nothing more than part of history. Part of the reason for this is the ongoing battle that those of us living with HIV/AIDS constantly fight to show people that one can continue to live a happy and normal life while living with this condition. We have done such a good job at defeating this stigma and enough people have shared their stories to make HIV appear as a “normal” chronic condition.
People are now so confident that living with HIV is easy that they are becoming careless. People do fear what they do not know but many feel they have become so “educated” about this virus over the years that condoms are not of importance. We have to find the balance between fighting stigma while still having an element of that fear of contracting the disease.
Yes, we currently have treatment that helps us live long and healthy lives but we also know that only a small percentage of people in North America are currently on ARV treatment with undetectable viral loads. Without medicine this virus is still just as deadly as it was over three decades ago.
We have categorized people who are at the highest risk, but we are all at risk! We need to get risk groups out of our mind; it is hurting the cause. Fear is not something that we should promote; however an element of it keeps people from contracting HIV/AIDS. Finding the balance between these two approaches is one of the keys to getting people to use condoms.
We currently have many in North America and across the world speaking up and sharing their story and this is fantastic. However, many more need to be doing this to be truly effective. It is a personal decision for each individual person living with the virus whether or not they are going to speak up. I have a passion to help others and prevent new infections, not everyone has that in them, and that is OK. However many people cannot relate to those of us living with HIV/AIDS because they don’t know anyone living with the virus. In the heterosexual community, before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know one person who was “openly” living with it.
Being able to relate with someone who is currently living with the virus and knowing their ups and downs helps greatly in encouraging someone to protect themselves. One of the reasons that I am an activist is because there is such a lack of hetero activists in this part of the world speaking up and letting people know this truly can happen to anyone. When I was in human sexuality a couple years before being diagnosed hearing an HIV positive gay man talk to our class about prevention, it didn’t feel like it applied to me, if anything it added to the stigma I already had in my mind. It didn’t make me want to go out and buy a pack of Trojan condoms because in my mind it only happened to some and not all. I am more educated now, however the point is we need more people to speak up from all demographics, sexual orientations, races, cultures, languages, and walks of life.
The third reason that I believe condom use is not penetrating rising infections is there is something that doesn’t seem “natural” about putting a barrier between ourselves and our partners. We know that most people who are married don’t use condoms consistently because we are taught that is what you do when you are in “love” with someone. The truth now is that if you truly love someone you will protect yourself and them, for it is the right thing to do.
Condom companies are consistently promoting new condoms that are thinner with names like “Ultra Thin”, “Bare Skin Barriers”, “Extra Sensitive” and others. However, we have it ingrained in our minds that using a condom just doesn’t feel right, having bare sex feels much better. I am sure most of us would agree it does, however knowing that both myself and my partner are safe feels a whole lot better still. Condoms can still be pleasurable and with all the different designs they are currently producing, there is no reason that this should be an excuse.
There are a number of other prevention techniques or risk reduction strategies such as PreP, PeP, sero-sorting, and sero-positioning that are becoming increasingly popular. Studies boast their results while stating that the method is not a replacement for consistent condom usage. As we know all of these are great techniques in reducing the risk but they are not replacements for the latex barrier.
So is the problem that the message of using condoms is flawed? Is the prevention effort many have worked so hard to promote over the years not working any longer?
I would say we can’t just simply give up on something we know to be so effective because people feel it is not giving the expected results. We need to truly look at how we can adjust the message to the current day where sex has never been so easy to find.
I am not going to tell someone who is having sex without a condom that it is wrong. However I can offer my story and why I think prevention should be implemented. If I can even reach one person with what I have gone through over the past couple of years with this virus then my mission is complete. If I can reach more, great.
The message itself is not the problem, it’s the issue of people not knowing how to implement an age old method with the current generation. It is the lack of fear, the lack of people speaking up that others can relate to, and the overwhelming thought that protection is just not something you do when you care about someone. We as activists have to get the prevention method out there across the board today. We must use our brains and help all that are sexually active and at risk for STI’s including HIV/AIDS. It is a matter of will. We can’t just give up, so please I urge you as always, PROTECT YOURSELF.
As always a big thanks to PositivelIte.com, for continuing to share my blogs/vlogs and giving people an opportunity to hear the HIV-positive hetero perspective. Make sure to check out the articles on their site as well as those of the other contributors who are fighting for the cause. Remember we are all in this together, and one person at a time, we can end this epidemic. We need to continue to encourage people to get educated, tested, and use protection consistently. We have to teach people that they must love themselves enough to use protection.
Hope everyone is having a great day and if you have any questions regarding HIV/AIDS please feel free to email me. I am not a medical professional and never want people to misinterpret what I say as medical advice, I am simply someone who has experience living with HIV and want to share my story to whomever will listen. Stay in contact with your doctor and as always, stay healthy.
Until next time please take a moment to subscribe to my youtube channel and like my videos, I promise more videos are on the way. I would much appreciate it. Check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Until next time, thanks for listening.
The complete text of this edited article originally appeared on Joshua’s own blog PozitiveHope here.