12) “Not using a condom shows that you really love and trust your partner.”
This is perhaps one of the most pervasive and dangerous myths around sex and intimacy, in the black community and beyond. It’s so ubiquitous, in fact, that NPR once (in)famously published a story entitled “unprotected sex is the new engagement ring”, profiling youth who saw the transition from condoms to no-condoms as a sign of a lasting commitment. The thing is, wanting to keep yourself and your partner as healthy as possible is love. Which makes getting tested and using condoms together the ultimate sign of respect.
(© Lev Olkha – Fotolia.com)
11) “Using two condoms to ‘double up’ means you’re being extra safe.
In the G-Unit song “After My Chedda”, Tony Yayo implies that, when it comes to condoms, two is safer than one, boasting “Birds wanna have my baby since I signed my contract/Now I got to double up in case the condom snap.” I reached out to Jenna Mellor, outreach manager at HIPS, DC, and sex-positive educator, for the real story on “doubling up”. Mellor was quick to emphasize that “when it comes to condoms, one is the safest number. ‘Double-bagging’ just makes the condom more likely to fall off”, Mellor says, and could increase the friction between the condoms and make them rip or tear. And, as if you needed to be reminded, when the condom falls off or rips, it doesn’t protect you from HIV anymore. Mellor encourages us to have faith in the ability of a single condom to keep us safe. “Condoms go through all sorts of rigorous manufacturing tests…And boy, can they stretch! A condom can easily fit onto your entire arm without breaking. So, trust [the condom] to do its job, and use one at a time,” she recommends. (Perhaps it comes as no surprise, given his shaky understanding of birth control methods, that Yayo now has two children.)
(© Jason Stitt – Fotolia.com)
10) “You can’t get an STD from oral sex.”
Like any other fluid-exchanging sexual activity, both giving and receiving oral sex carries a risk of transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. While it’s true that the risk of HIV transmission from an infected partner through oral sex is smaller than the risk of HIV transmission from anal or vaginal sex, transmission is still possible, as is transmission of herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and other STIs. The good news is that you can enlist the help of condoms and dental dams to have safe oral sex without an exchange of bodily fluids. Still not convinced? Come on, they come in flavors!
(© Bryan Creely – Fotolia.com)
9) “It’s the man’s responsibility to bring and wear a condom.”
This attitude is so out of date. These days, everyone is encouraged and expected to take protection into their own hands, regardless of their gender. Even Lady Gaga agrees; last year, she teamed up with the MAC AIDS fund to promote a campaign encouraging women to carry their own condoms. “Don’t leave home without your lipstick – and a condom,” Gaga urged. “You put that condom in your purse and save your own f***ing life.” Another option for women who like to take their health into their own hands is to use the female condom, which many find awesome because you can insert it on your own up to eight hours before sexual activity.
(© modellocate – Fotolia.com)
8) “You can cure HIV by sleeping with a virgin.”
In the absence of frank talk about sex, wildly inaccurate information such as this myth can be perpetuated, with effects that are especially devastating to women and girls. This so-called virgin myth, often perpetuated by traditional healers, has led to the rape of hundreds of girls, many of whom then become infected with the virus themselves. Comprehensive sexuality education programs are key to dispel horrific rumors such as this, especially for young people: UNAIDS reports that, although myths about HIV vary from one culture to another, surveys from 40 countries indicate that more than 50 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 harbour serious misconceptions about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted.
(© Rob Byron – Fotolia.com)
7) “Once you’re married or in a committed relationship, you don’t have to worry about STD’s.”
Unfortunately, “putting a ring on it” does not constitute protection against HIV and other STI’s. As much as we’d like it to, marriage does not have some sort of magical quality that automatically guarantees safe sex for those who have bought into the institution, and sadly, many new infections occur within marriage or long-term relationships, often as a result of unfaithful partners.
(© Arrow Studio – Fotolia.com)
6) “HIV isn’t a big deal these days- look at Magic Johnson!”
It’s true that HIV infection is no longer the death sentence it once was, and Magic Johnson’s lengthy and public battle is a joyful reminder of that fact. But this is no reason to get complacent about HIV, which still has no cure, and has lifelong consequences that can range from dementia to bone loss and cancer. Last month, a controversial ad campaign released by the Health Department pointed out that “when you get HIV, it’s never just HIV.” Treatment can control the virus and save your life, but the infection is with you forever. We don’t need to use scare tactics or stigmatize those with the disease to acknowledge how serious it is, and promote life-saving information and technologies.
5) “You can get HIV from kissing someone, sharing a drink with them, or holding their hand.”
Actually, none of these behaviours put you at risk. Unless both partners have large open sores in their mouths, or severely bleeding gums, there is no transmission risk from mouth-to-mouth kissing. HIV also does not survive well in the open air, which means that it can’t be transmitted through spitting, sneezing, sharing glasses, cutlery, or musical instruments. You also can’t be infected in swimming pools, showers or by sharing washing facilities or toilet seats.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)
4) “Gay men are at greatest risk for HIV.”
Within the African American community, gay and bisexual men are the most affected by HIV, followed by heterosexual women. But HIV isn’t restricted to any racial or sexual identity, and it spreads through behaviors, not identities. In many parts of the country, heterosexual sex is the most common way that people get infected. Increasingly, women are affected; generally, they are at a greater risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV, and biologically they are twice more likely to become infected with HIV through unprotected heterosexual intercourse than men.
(© Junial Enterprises – Fotolia.com)
3) “HIV is a third-world problem.”
An analysis by the Black AIDS Institute found that if black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people with HIV — ahead of Ethiopia, Botswana, and Haiti. Jenna Mellor points out that we don’t have to look any further than our nation’s capital to see that HIV is a problem everywhere. “Here in Washington, DC we have the White House, all the pillars of American democracy, and an HIV epidemic,” she says. “Three percent of Washingtonians have been diagnosed with the infection, and another two to three percent are estimated to be undiagnosed but living with HIV. One thing is true everywhere, in the third-world and first-world: HIV affects marginalized, politically and economically excluded communities the hardest. It is not a coincidence that 81 percent of people with AIDS in DC are black.”
(AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
2) “People who get STDs are promiscuous and dirty.”
People who get STIs are simply people who have STIs. Perpetuating stigma and discrimination against people with STIs only serves to further “other” their experience, heightening the false sense of invincibility that often accompanies our own risky behavior. STI’s, including HIV, don’t follow some sort of moral compass. Remaining humble and holding off on making a judgment about other people could turn out to be the very thing that saves your life.
(© Lev Olkha – Fotolia.com)
1) “Getting tested is difficult, expensive, or embarrassing.”
While it can sometimes feel intimidating, getting tested has actually never been easier, quicker, cheaper, or more important. Some tests give you results in 20 minutes, and free testing is available in many areas. If you do not know your status and have not been tested recently, call1-800-CDC-INFORMATION, or send a text message to “KNOWIT” (566948) with your ZIP code to receive a list of HIV testing sites near you.
For posters, fact sheets, and more information on HIV/AIDS in the black community, visit www.blackaidsday.org
(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
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How many times have you heard it? You know what I’m talking about. That sketchy piece of information that seems either too good to be true, too weird to be right, or just too risky to be healthy. Like that questionable claim by your neighbor that she’s found a foolproof method for avoiding gray hairs, or the advice of your cousin-in-law’s godmother, twice removed, to avoid bad luck by carrying a rabbit’s foot or knocking on wood.
Indeed, there are a lot of myths and misinformation floating around these days. But sometimes the stakes are too high to let these instances of misinformation go unchecked. Now is one of those times.
Today marks the 11th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a time set aside to recognize and raise awareness of the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on the African-American population. By now, many of us have heard the alarmingly grim statistics: The CDC reports that HIV is a full-blown crisis in African American communities, with approximately one in 16 black men diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime, and one in 32 black women. While African-Americans make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 50 percent of all diagnosed HIV cases. That’s up 4 percent from two years ago.
These numbers can feel surreal, overwhelming, and far removed from the day-to-day realities of our lives. But the truth is that none of us are immune to the effects of this epidemic, nor can we escape its grasp by embracing a veil of ignorance or denial. Chances are, most of us have someone in our lives who has been affected by HIV, or have been affected ourselves, in one way or another. We can’t afford to let misinformation persist when our lives and the lives of our friends, family, and community members are at stake.
Last week, I attended an event on health in the black community hosted by Planned Parenthood and Essence magazine, where we discussed the numerous and complex factors that contribute to heightened rates of HIV/AIDS in the black community. Inspired by that conversation, I’ve gathered 12 of the most common myths and urban legends around sex and sexuality, and enlisted the help of a sexuality educator to debunk them once and for all.