There are two types of discussions about HIV that take place in the gen-pop of Black communities. One, how Magic Johnson holds the cure or about the type of person who contracts this virus. Two is the rhetoric that this is a disease one contracts when dealing with a gay man or when gay. Neither dialogues are helpful in educating communities on HIV.
You'll hear many experts and advocates say that HIV is no longer a death sentence and while this is true, I imagine that none of us are flying a Goodyear blimp in the blue skies that says "come for me." No one asks for HIV. No one. Which makes it all the more important that we stay educated on the topic in a way that is sex positive.
Because despite the 14 million people who had to die due to the government's ignorance and bias throughout the 80s and well into the 90s, there always seems to be a new headline about an influx of HIV diagnosis in one black-ish community or another and part of me feels that has a lot to do with the way we've continuously stigmatized it. This can be easy to do when there isn't proper sex education within many communities. We're having too many of the wrong discussions and not enough of the right ones.
But I've never been one to sit around demanding change while refusing to be part of the solution, so let's chat! Let's debunk what you believe to be true about HIV and get the 411 on preventative measures, plus what a diagnosis means.
Human immunodeficiency virus is what those three often bolded letters stand for in the acronym HIV. According to Dr. Cedrina Calder, it hurts the immune system "by attacking specific cells. The virus affects the body's natural ability to fight infection." She warns, "If the virus is left untreated, the illness can progress to a condition called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS."
HIV can be detected by your gynecologist or urologist using one of the three methods: Nucleic Acid Test, Antigen test, or an Antibody test. Rapid and home tests are normally antibody tests that can be conducted with an oral swab or a blood sample. For those with a healthy suspicion of home test, like myself, Dr. Calder says they are 92 percent sensitive. In other words, it will be effective for about 92 percent of those who use it. The nucleic acid test is a more thorough test that doctors may opt for if you test positive.
Is There A Cure For HIV?
The origin of HIV has been a mystery for the most part. While the CDC suggests that it may have been present in Africa since the late 1800s, it didn't knowingly make its way to the United States until the late 1970s. When it first ravaged communities, it was thought to only be a disease that affected the gay community -- the name given to it during that time was Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID).
It took thousands of people dying annually and a decade of activism from groups such as ACT UP for the Government to intervene and pass policy for FDA approved medications for the infection.
As it stands there is no cure for HIV, there are only treatments. These treatments have become increasingly more effective, increased life expectancy, and decreased the likelihood of HIV progressing to AIDS. As previously mentioned, these treatments make it possible to live a healthy life with an equally healthy sex life after being infected through consistency and maintaining a low detectability rate, making it more difficult to transmit the virus.
Exposure to HIV
It can't be stressed enough how important it is to be tested regularly for HIV. Your annual visit can suffice unless you engage in "risky" sexual behaviors, and then it is recommended that you get tested more frequently.
Risky sexual behavior doesn't necessarily mean engaging in sex with multiple partners but can simply mean you engage in anal sex regularly. According to Dr. Calder, those who participate in anal sex or are the proclaimed "bottom" are at greater risk due to how easy it is for the infection to pass through rectal tissue. This has to do with the lack of lubrication provided in the area, as well as the fact that the tissue there has a lot of blood vessels.
It's worth noting that HIV cannot be detected immediately after exposure and while it often takes anywhere from least three to 12 weeks, there are some cases where the antibodies take longer to detect.
That said, should you be exposed to HIV unknowingly (this might occur in the case of sexual assault), you have a 72-hour window to get to your doctor for PEP or Post-exposure Prophylaxis. If this occurs over a weekend or any given day where you cannot be seen by your physician, it is critical that you get to the ER to begin treatment.
Living with HIV is more than possible with technological advances, but it does require a shift in your lifestyle. In fact, Dr. Calder reminds us that although there is no guarantee that HIV won't develop into AIDs, with early and proper treatment along with a healthy lifestyle you can "significantly decrease the chance of the infection progressing into AIDs." She further elaborated that this healthy lifestyle might look like limiting alcohol and drug intake, fitness, and a generally clean diet.
HIV Today: Proactive PrEParation
If you are HIV-negative but currently engage or plan on engaging in sex with an HIV-positive partner, then Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a pill regimented daily that helps to prevent the transmission of HIV. For those engaging in vaginal sex, the pill takes up to three weeks to work.
PrEP solely protects against HIV and it's not recommended that couples stop using condoms or other forms of birth control in lieu of taking PrEP. Furthermore, we know that there is no form of contraception that's 100 percent effective outside a laboratory but it can be 90 percent effective at reducing the risk of transmission through sex.
According to PrEP, the pill is also viable option for women who wish to become pregnant with their partner who is positive.
The Ryan White Care Act AIDS Drug Assistance Program has been around since 1990 and helps low-income people afford medications. And now, with the inclusion of Obama Care and the Affordable Care Act, these medications are more accessible than ever. At this juncture, Medicaid and most insurances cover the cost of the PrEP pill, but if you don't have access to those programs, there are organizations you can reach out to for financial assistance.
However, as Dr. Calder points out, it's these type of socioeconomic disparities that have continuously made HIV an epidemic amongst those who identify at the intersection of black, gay, and male.
It must be said that by perpetuating stereotypes, the groups impacted by any disease only become pushed further into the margins, making it more difficult to take preventative measures. Thus, why it's so important for us to have these discussions and create a safe space for people to address genuine concerns, correct misinformation, and further expound upon the dialogue.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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- Frequently Asked Questions - APRI ›
- HIV viral load: What it means, detection, and CD4 levels ›
- What does it mean to have HIV today? - Orlando Sentinel ›
- HIV and AIDS: Overview, causes, symptoms, and treatments ›
- Charlie Sheen's HIV Diagnosis: What HIV Means Today | Time ›
Motor City native, Atlanta living. Sagittarius. Writer. Sexpert. Into all things magical, mystical, and unknown. I'll try anything at least once but you knew that the moment I revealed that I was a Sag.
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From Monogamy To Polyamory: 'I'm In An Asexual Poly Marriage With My Husband Of 7 Years'
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be asexual and in an open marriage? Relationship Coach Mikki Bey shared her first-hand experience with us as well as answered some of our burning questions.
Like a lot of people, Mikki met her now husband, Raheem Ali, online. As soon as they met, they instantly fell in love and got engaged on their first date. Just 90 days after they met, the couple tied the knot and have now been married for seven years. Raheem and Mikki aren’t your typical married couple, and despite being married for almost a decade, their marriage is anything but traditional. Mikki and Raheem have what she calls an "asexual polyamorous marriage."
Defining Her Sexuality
It wasn't until last summer that Mikki found the language to define her sexuality. "I didn't have the language for it until last summer," she explained to xoNecole. "Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing.”
Mikki always thought she was broken because she had no interest in sex. Mikki noticed after her friends came to visit and started discussing their sexual fantasies that she realized something was different about her. “At that point, I knew something was definitely different about me since I do not have sexual fantasies at all. It was truly news to me that people are at work thinking about sex! That was not my experience.” This led to Mikki researching asexuality, which she soon realized fit her to a T. “It felt like breathing new air when I was able to call it by name," said Mikki.
"Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing it."
Asexuality refers to people who experience little or no sexual attraction, experience attraction without acting on it sexually, or experience sexual attraction differently based on other factors. Like most things, asexuality falls on a spectrum and encompasses many other identities. It's important to remember, however, that attraction and action are not always synonymous: some asexuals may reject the idea of sexual contact, but others may be sex-neutral and engage in sexual activity.
It's possible that some asexuals will have sex with someone else despite not having a libido or masturbating, but others will have sex with a partner because it brings a sense of connection.
From a Traditional Marriage to Kitchen Table Polyamory
Although Mikki never really had a high sex drive, it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, that she noticed her sex drive took a real nosedive. “I never had a high sex drive, but about a year after my son was born, I realized I had zero desire. My husband has a high sex drive, and I knew that it would not be sustainable to not have sex in our marriage at that time.”
She was determined to find an alternative to divorce and stumbled upon a polyamory conversation on Clubhouse. Upon doing her own research, she brought up the idea to their husband, who was receptive. “It’s so interesting to me that people weigh sex so heavily in relationships when even if you are having a ton of sex, it’s still a very small percentage of the relationship activity," Mikki shared.
They chose polyamory because Mikki still wanted to be married, but she also wanted to make sure that Raheem was getting his individual needs and desires met, even if that meant meeting them with someone else. “I think that we have been programmed to think that our spouses need to be our 'everything.' We do not operate like that. There is no one way that fits all when it comes to relationships, despite what society may try to tell you. Their path to doing this thing called life together may be different from yours, but they found what works for them. We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us,” Mikki explained.
"We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us. We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sex partners to lifetime partners if it should go there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it."
She continued, “We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sexual partners to lifetime partners if it should get there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it. Our dynamic is parallel with kitchen table poly aspirations.”
Kitchen table polyamory (KTP) is a polyamorous relationship in which all participants are on friendly terms enough to share a meal at the kitchen table. Basically, it means you have some form of relationship with your partner’s other partner, whether as a group or individually. A lot of times, KTP relationships are highly personal and rooted in mutual respect, communication, and friendship.
Intimacy in an Asexual Polyamorous Marriage
Mikki says she and her husband, Raheem, still share intimate moments despite being in a polyamorous marriage. “Our intimacy is emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical, although non-sexual. We are intentional about date nights weekly, surprising and delighting each other daily, and most of all, we communicate our needs regularly. In my opinion, our intimacy is top-tier! I give my husband full-body massages, mani-pedis and make sure I am giving him small physical touches/kisses throughout the day. He is also very intentional about showing me his love and affection.”
Raheem and Mikki now use their lives as examples for others. On their website, thepolycouplenextdoor.com, they coach people interested in learning how to be consensually non-monogamous. “We are both relationship coaches. I specialized in emotional regulation, and Raheem specializes in communication and conflict resolution. The same tools we use in our marriage help our clients succeed in polyamory."
Mikki advises people who may be asexual or seeking non-monogamy to communicate their needs openly and to consider seeking sex therapy or intimacy coaching. Building a strong relationship with a non-sexual partner requires both empathy and compassion.
For more of Mikki, follow her on Instagram @getmikkibey. Follow the couple's platform on Instagram @thepolycouplenextdoor.
Featured image by skynesher/Getty Images