HIV On The Down Low

HIV/AIDS Awareness ribbons against a black background( — December is recognized as AIDS Awareness Month. It’s a time to remember those who have died from this nearly 30-year epidemic, support those living with the disease, strengthen our resolve to educate others about it, and continue the mission of finding effective ways to treat and, hopefully, one day cure it.

Although there is not yet a cure for AIDS or the HIV virus that causes it, so much progress has been made in the past decade with regard to treatment options.  At one time, if someone was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it was taken as an automatic death sentence.

Now, because of these advancementss, it is mistakenly viewed as a chronic illness, such as diabetes, etc. Maybe at least partially because of these lax attitudes, HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect the African-American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control, African-Americans comprise almost 50% of the more than one million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.  They also make up almost 50% of newly diagnosed cases every year. Sadly, despite all of this, HIV/AIDS is largely preventable. But people continue to get infected because of a few key issues, including the idea that it’s easy to recognize someone who carries the HIV virus – it’s easy to recognize someone who’s “down low.”

The problems with this “down low” issue are:

1. I find that this whole concept further demonizes Black men, since not only black men engage in this behavior AND it is not just men that engage in same-sex sexual encounters without the knowledge of their partners

2. It promotes the idea that Black women do not have the skills and confidence, i.e. power, to take responsibility for our own sexual health.

3. There is no clear and definite way to identify anyone who’s on the “down low.”

Unfortunately, many people have profited from this latter point, which has instilled fear instead of empowerment in our community, does not add any substantive content to the discourse, and has done more harm than good.

Also, believe me, if someone is truly “down low”, there are no “signs” that will give them away.  If there truly were ways to spot these men, then why have the rates of new HIV/AIDS infection among black women not significantly decreased?

Instead, I want to encourage you to try to have an open, honest discussion with your current or potential partner – this is one of the true keys to tackling the problem of AIDS in our community.  Please know that I understand how difficult such conversations can be. But, they’re necessary. And we will consider to suffer until we do what we need to do.

Here are some helpful starters:

• Have you had a recent (within the past six months) HIV/STD test?
• What were the results?
• Do you have a copy of your results for me to see?
• Have you had sex with another man or women (or both) without protection? Did you know the STD/HIV status of your last sexual partner?
• Do you/have you ever used any IV drugs?

I have encountered many people who will jump in the bed with someone long before they even think about talking to them about their health status – I truly believe that this is where our main problem lies as a people.  You may not have control over what behaviors your partner engages in, but that does not mean that you cannot do what is within your means to try and protect your health.

As I’ve said, HIV/AIDS is a largely preventable disease and prevention begins with you!

By Dr. Tonya, BDO Mental Health Expert

Dr. Hucks-Bradshaw is a licensed clinical psychologist and a former Minority Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA).  She is a certified HIV trainer with APA’s Office of HIV Education and has experience working in medical settings and hospitals.  Dr. Hucks-Bradshaw has made numerous presentations on multicultural interests, contributed to publications, and continues to maintain an active interest involving research among minority group populations.

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