A Doctor's Plea

Women and HIV/AIDS: Take Control, Take Charge

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard one of the following statements:
• He’s clean. I have known him for years.
• I know him. He has only “messed with” clean girls.
• He was married for 30 years. His wife died and now he is with me. We do not need to use condoms.
• I have never been tested for HIV but he was in the military and was tested for everything. He is clean.

This list could go on and on. The common thread between all of these statements or similar ones is that the woman in the relationship is making assumptions about her partner.

I wish we lived in a world where everyone remained abstinent until marriage and everyone stayed married until they died. However, this is not a realistic, global view of the world or human sexuality. People have sex. They change partners. They have sex again. This cycle continues over and over. Some decide to choose a lifetime partner. Others do not. Without a doubt, I am ever more certain that sex should no longer be considered a casual, light-hearted decision. It is and can be a life changing decision.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of 2009, 24% of those with HIV in the United States are women. Also, it is reported that in 2009, there were 11,200 new HIV infections among women in the United States. African-American women have a bleaker reality. Of these new infections, “…57% occurred in blacks, 21% were in whites, and 16% were in Hispanics / Latinas.” Did you know that in her lifetime, 1 in 139 women will be diagnosed with HIV?

Women of the world, listen up! It is time to take charge and take control. Your sexuality is your prize possession. Don’t allow it to be tainted because you ASSUMED that “he was clean”. Don’t gamble with your life, because you trusted that he knows his HIV status.
Ok, so you may be thinking, “isn’t there medicine to treat HIV.” Yes, researchers have made great strides in treating HIV, but these medications have serious side effects. HIV may not be the death sentence that it used to be, but it is definitely a life changer.

To those women, who are pregnant, I send out a special plea. Did you know that, if you have HIV, it is no longer a guarantee that your unborn child will also have HIV? Transmission of HIV from mother to child is called vertical transmission or perinatal transmission. Vertical transmission can be reduced from 24% to less than 2% when a HIV infected mother is treated during pregnancy, labor and delivery and the baby is treated after birth.

So, as women, how can we take control and take charge?
1. Understand that the safest sex is abstinence (unless you are married).
2. If you choose to have sex, safer sex involves protecting yourself. Require that your partner wears a condom or you may wear a female condom.
3. Know your status. HIV testing can be confidential or anonymous. Contact your health care provider or public health department to help you determine which form of testing is best for you.
4. Avoid the use of alcohol and/or drugs whenever there is the possibility that a decision will need to be made regarding sex. Alcohol and/or drugs can alter your decision-making capacity.
5. Pregnant women get tested for HIV. If you are HIV positive, get treatment and do not breastfeed.
6. Mothers talk to your sons and daughters about sex and the potential consequences of that decision. (Fathers, this goes for you too.)
7. Single women: beware of high-risk male populations, such as men who are IV drug users, or men who have been in prison.
8. Although HIV is no longer considered a “gay man’s disease”, homosexuality is considered a high risk behavior. Ask your partner if he has had a sexual encounter with a man in the past. If the answer is yes, get tested for HIV.
9. If you are recently divorced or widowed and are now dating, condoms should not be negotiable, if you decide to have sex.
10. If you are not sure if you are at risk for HIV, talk with your health care provider.

I understand the subject of sex and HIV can be a difficult one. However, if one woman’s life is saved by reading this blog, I am satisfied. Women of the world, hear my plea. Take control and take charge!

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