By Rachel A. Harralson
Woman’s Health Columnist
As an HIV test counselor and Counseling, Testing, and Linkages Coordinator working primarily with people in substance abuse treatment, I have discovered that not everyone battling addiction “looks” like it.
Not every injection drug user has visible track marks. Not every married man “looks” like he has sex with men to support his secret methamphetamine habit. I could go on, but the point is simple—not everything is what it appears to be.
As women of color, particularly straight women, we can no longer afford to make assumptions about our sexual partners or be reckless with our own sexual health. Why? Because according to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women account for nearly 60 percent of all new HIV infections among women and nearly one in 30 black women will become infected with HIV in her lifetime (http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/TCTT-Campaign-Backgrounder-508c.pdf).
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Have a Conversation…Upfront – Have candid conversations with potential mates well before intimacy. How many times have you found yourself in a relationship, only to say later, “If only I had known this in the beginning?” We have the power to prevent this by doing some of the same things a company would do with a potential employee, like conduct multiple interviews (i.e., casual dates in various environments) and implement a probationary period (i.e., wait six months to have sex).
Take Precautions – I know that there are times when we throw caution to the wind, but I beg you to please practice safe sex when you do. Make sure the condom isn’t expired, defective, put on incorrectly or hasn’t rolled off during sex.
Get Tested – if you are not being tested at least yearly when you get your annual pelvic exam, you are in need of an HIV test. I realize that some of you are happily married, have been dating the same man seemingly forever, or have been celibate since the Clinton era, but at least give it some consideration.
If you are having unprotected sex you absolutely need to be tested. Drop this newspaper and call your primary care provider, gynecologist or local health clinic right now and get tested!
To find HIV testing in your area, visit www.hivtest.org/takecharge/