Over the past few weeks we have been bombarded by messages in the media regarding individuals intentionally infecting others HIV. There has been a range of emotions implicitly expressing anger, outrage, harsh criticism, judgment and scrutiny, all of which help to facilitate the transmission of HIV, aimed at those allegedly responsible for infected others. We criticize the public health, community-based, faith-based and social and human service agencies for failure to respond “appropriately” to the epidemic. We automatically side with the victimized individual but yet fail to address their risk behaviors and sexual health accountability.
Often times those living with HIV exist in an environment of silence. There are many reasons that help to perpetuate unspoken risk factors. Some of those include: cultural norms, lack of education and skills, lack of self-esteem and self-efficacy, sexual orientation and gender identity, communication barriers, isolation, violence fear, stigma, perceived exclusion from intimacy, etc. Are these reasons justifiable enough to excuse someone from knowingly infecting another individual? Absolutely not! But they do begin to shed light on why many individuals fail to come forward and disclose their HIV positive status.
Let’s be clear, in no way am I suggesting that those purposely infecting others with HIV should not be held accountable and punished justly for their behavior because they should. After all, failure to disclose HIV status to future sex partners and/or knowingly infecting someone with HIV is considered to be a felony in many states. However, I am saying that everyone must also be held accountable and responsible for their own sexual health.
Learning to become intimately acquainted with ourselves and understanding our body is essential to having power over of our sexuality. Additionally learning to understand, respect and communicate our sexual attitudes, beliefs, needs, wants and concerns, not only to our physicians but our current and potential partners, is imperative in helping to navigate healthier relationships and safer and more satisfying sexual experiences. Therefore, we must become our own Sexpert! Building self-esteem and self-efficacy is the first step to embracing our sexual selves. We must learn to love, respect and accept ourselves; flaws and all. By doing so, we begin to free ourselves from the confines of judgment and scrutiny of others, thus giving ourselves permission to discover and explore our sexuality in a healthier and safer manner.
The individual may be infected but the community is affected! Society needs to stop treating HIV as an issue of morality but rather as the public health epidemic destroying individuals, families and communities that IT IS. People can make excuses and justify a reason for every other issue of ethics and morality, but how dare we talk about sexuality in the same manner! We talk about religion, war, politics, or the state of the economy but we won’t talk about healthy sexuality and reproductive health; tools that can save our life or end our life! If we begin to normalize conversations about all aspects of healthy sexuality and reproductive health, we will begin to see a paradigm shift and less people would become infected and/or die in silence. We need to get our heads out of the clouds, stop turning up our ethical noses, climb down off our moral high horse and instead of judging; focus on a new “it factor” normalizing conversations sex +glamorizing prevention= making safer sex the new sexy! Now that’s, is a formula for saving lives!
At the end of the day before you start pointing the fingers and assigning blame, always remember that YOU are responsible for YOUR sexual health! Not your partner, not anyone else but YOU! Keep in mind that every time you have unprotected sex with someone, you are having sex with every single person that they’ve had sex with; past and present. Additionally every time you have sex with someone who’s HIV or STI status you do not know, you essential saying to them, I love you enough to let you kill me! Ask yourself one simple question; is this ten maybe fifteen minutes of pleasure worth dying for? I think NOT! Respect yourself enough to protect yourself! Wrap it up!