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Feeding Stigma: Ending the Ignorance Of Attaching HIV To Hypersexuality

HIV and its correlations with hypersexuality are dangerous, with many implications as to why those living with HIV continue to suffer criminalized lives. Furthermore, it is not okay to tell people that their accounts of how they contracted the virus are likely false if not attributing it to high counts of unprotected sex.

That’s not how any of this works. As we are closing in on 40 years since the discovery of HIV and the movement since that time to end the virus, we are continuously forced to deal with stigma, shaming, and misinformation based on projection and a superiority complex from those who are not positive.

People often attack this narrative: “I had sex once, or minimal times, and contracted HIV.”

We continue, as a society, trying to correlate sexual deviance and the volume of it with contraction of the HIV virus. Whether it was from unprotected sex with multiple partners or unprotected sex with your husband or wife of 10 years, or IV drug use, the problem is that the stigma associated with HIV continues to dictate the “how” of HIV transmission.

There is nearly 40 years of evidence from research that lets us know that the volume of sexual activity in and of itself is not the end-all-be-all in preventing HIV, nor is it the answer to determining if someone is high at risk. It is dangerous to continue placing so much stigma around the act of sex itself, along with one’s sexual history, without context around the actual facts of how HIV continues to spread in certain communities while it declines in others with the same or higher chances of unprotected sex.

One thing we have learned from years of research in this field is that there is a myth around condom use in the Black LGBTQ community, and with Black women. Despite years of surveys and data, which typically has concluded that Black people use condoms more often than other races based on gender and sexual identity, the myth is still running the course that it’s due to our “unsafe” sex practices; when in actuality it is due to HIV prevalence within communities with which we engage in sexual activity.

Because communities of color have much a higher HIV prevalence, the risk continues to run higher for contracting the virus despite safer sex practices. It’s important that we as a community begin to move past the shaming of people who have every right to be as sexually active as other communities with less HIV prevalence, and work on educating each other about the tools that we have to help fight against the virus within our own community.

The actual fact is that it is harder to get rid of an epidemic like HIV within the Black community despite the amount of safer sex practices because we fall into a perfect storm of health disparity. That includes lacking resources, insurance, education, access to treatments, and utilization even when it’s available. The continued myth around hypersexuality doesn’t help fight against these odds because it shames people into living their lives shrouded in secrecy, which includes their sex life and their HIV status.

Projecting the hypersexuality narrative on HIV-positive people does have dangerous consequences. Not just to the person telling their story or who lives openly in their new truth, but to the overall system that continues to oppress the HIV-positive community. HIV criminalization laws were enacted because of fear during the height of the epidemic. These laws were seen as a way to detract those who were positive from having sex, adding a criminal penalty of prison for those who placed others at risk for contracting the virus.

Despite all the changes in technology, medication, and the ability for those who are HIV-positive to be undetectable/virally suppressed and not transmit the virus, these laws are still on the books in 33 states. And it’s these conversations that center around HIV transmission and hypersexuality that continue to allow these laws to remain in place.

It is not okay to continue selling this narrative. When we lose sight of what is important and focus on shaming those who have contracted the virus, we only hurt our own community. Stigmatizing people stops them from getting tested. Stigma stops people from having conversations around their status; conversations which are important prior to engaging in sex.

If you truly care about our community and the eradication of the HIV virus—keeping those who are negative “negative” and those who are positive virally suppressed, then do yourself a favor: Stop spreading the sexual deviance rumors as a way to make yourself feel better about your sex practices. Stop spreading the hypersexuality rumor that continues to penalize us criminally and cripple the discussions folks need to be having around status and sex.

Basically, if you don’t have anything nice to say, just don’t say anything at all.