Have you ever heard the saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”? Yeah, It’s a pretty common saying, but it has been proven to be a lie many times. It is especially false when the topic is health issues such as AIDS and HIV. Many individuals say that they would rather not know but that attitude will not only hurt you… IT WILL KILL YOU!
According to the Center for Disease Control, 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it. Since we are talking numbers, it is important that you know two very sad numbers as it relates to new HIV cases in the United States. The first number is 19 which is the percentage of newly HIV infected women. The second number is 61, this is the percent of African American women represented out of the overall number of new cases among women. These numbers are partially due to fear and to not understanding the power in knowing your status.
Around two years ago, I stumbled upon a jewel in southwest Atlanta, SisterLove Inc. SisterLove, Inc., founded in July of 1989 when it’s founder, Dázon Dixon Diallo noticed that there was a lack of support and resources for women of color. It began as a volunteer group of women interested in educating Atlanta, and especially communities of women, about AIDS prevention, self-help and safer sex techniques. SisterLove’s mission is to eradicate the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health challenges upon women and their families through education, prevention, support and human rights advocacy in the United States and around the world.
Since I was due to get my HIV testing done, I recently paid SisterLove a visit. The test administrator, Sequoia, was very sweet, friendly and accommodating. Before I could even finish telling her about my day, she had already sanitized and pricked my right, middle finger. The hardest part was done, she explained how the test results are determined using the same-day result rapid test, then handed me a card to indicate my negative status. As she bandaged my finger up, we began discussing my prevention plan going forward. As we candidly spoke, she opened a plastic purple bag and began to fill it with a variety of condoms; some I was familiar with, others not so much. However, I did recognize the FC2 packaging as she placed a couple of them in the bag.
The FC2 Female Condom provides hormone-free, latex-free protection against unintended pregnancy and STDs. And since FC2 can be inserted several hours prior, you can experience interruption-free intimacy. The FC2 is the only FDA approved for market female condom, and is classified as a Class III medical device, proven safe and effective. You can use oil or water-based lubricants with the FC2. It also is pleasurable for both partners. And can increase stimulation because the material is natural feeling and warms to body temperature.
Usually, I’ll just take my bag of goodies and be on my way, but I had plenty of time on this particular afternoon to really get the most out of the experience. I told her ”I know this must sound silly to you, but I’ve never used a female condom before, they always look so…baggy”. She smiled, went in the room next door and reappeared with a plastic vagina model, unwrapped it and gave me a quick, but thorough demonstration of its correct placement. Sequoia told me that many women had the same concern I had. I learned that its “bagginess” is actually made to line the walls of the vagina while also allowing for movement of the penis inside the sheath.
It was in that moment that I realized the importance of other women also learning how they work as an additional choice to protect themselves not only from HIV, but from other sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies as well. So many women rely solely on their partner’s choice of protection and it doesn’t have to be that way. This was a powerful realization for me once I was able to replace the stigmas I held with the facts. I would strongly encourage every woman to do the same.
As an African American woman, I am aware that we are more likely to be infected with HIV than other women. which is why i encourage all women to talk with your gynecologist about your prevention methods, spark conversation with your friends about their practices, practice using a variety of protections. Don’t hesitate to stop by SisterLove, Inc. in Atlanta or a similar testing sites in your area. Whatever you do, don’t talk yourself out of potentially viable options when your life is at stake. There’s no better time than the present to begin healthy loving and living. It is so important that we remember that the things we refuse to acknowledge tend to reappear as a magnified, more complex issue. Understand that even a positive HIV test result is not “the end of the world”. If you learn that you are HIV positive, you then have an opportunity to take steps before symptoms appear to access treatment, care and support, thereby potentially prolonging your life and preventing health complications for many years.