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.