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Wake up call: HIV & Black Women

In March, I woke up to over a hundred thousand views on a TikTok video I made about Black women and HIV. I am not new to HIV activism in the Black community. I’ve been in commercials, done speaking engagements, and appeared in an ABC news special. However, I was not prepared for the responses to the video. We need a wake up call — its time for more education about sexual health and HIV in the Black community. Black women are the fastest growing demographic of new HIV cases among American women. It is beyond time to prioritize Black women in HIV prevention and activism, and we can’t let stigma and stereotypes overshadow efforts to center her vulnerability to stop the spread of this virus. HIV 101 First, some basic facts about HIV transmission that we all need to know.

  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system. If left untreated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

  • HIV is carried in semen, vaginal fluids, anal mucus, blood, and breast milk.

  • You can get HIV from vaginal or anal sex, vertical transmission (occurring during gestation, delivery, or breastfeeding) in addition to sharing needles or syringes.

  • You cannot get HIV from hugging, kissing, or any other ordinary physical contact.

  • HIV is not an airborne virus.

When we don’t have facts, it’s easy for stereotypes to cloud what is true about HIV prevention and treatment. Speaking of stereotypes… Black women and DL men is a tired narrative that’s hurting us We can repeat the storyline verbatim at this point: A gay man pretending to be straight, but secretly having sex with men, passes HIV along to an unsuspecting Black woman. I can name at least 3 classic TV shows with that story somewhere in the series. While some Black women do acquire HIV from men who have sex with men, (MSM), DL (down low) men are not the primary transmitters of HIV to Black heterosexual women. However, you wouldn’t know that from the way HIV has consistently been presented in Black pop culture in the last twenty years. Because this narrative has never been corrected, it has been accepted as fact within the Black community. The DL man trope is not a reflection of all HIV transmission among Black cisgender, women — accepting this is a NECESSARY step towards HIV prevention among this vulnerable population. And while I still have you here, one more stereotype needs to GO! Promiscuity is not a thing. And it certainly isn’t a cause of HIV in Black women One of the most dangerous narratives is that of the hypersexual Black woman whose promiscuous behavior will have consequences in the future. When you hear the statistic that Black Women account for 64% of new HIV cases in the U.S, it’s easy to believe that Black women did something “wrong” to bring an HIV diagnosis upon herself. But Black women are not and have never been more sexual in nature than our counterparts (note: Black women are PERCEIVED as more sexual. That perception doesn't equate to reality.) Black women are entitled to healthy, pleasurable sexual experiences without the stigma. Promiscuity is not a cause of HIV and suppressing Black women’s sexuality is not an effective method of HIV prevention.

HIV s not an issue of “down low” men or hypersexual behavior. It is an issue of public health and education. In fact, HIV among Black women is a social justice issue. Why? Because racism, sexism, and economic inequality are barriers to Black women having access to medical care and receiving culturally competent education regarding prevention and treatment. Having transparent conversations about sex and sexuality is the first, and strongest step we can take to prevent the transmission of HIV in our community. As always, be real. Be relevant. Be righteous. LáDeia

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