Why Is The Age Old Condom Message Not “Penetrating” Rising HIV Infections In North America?

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Condoms are something that have been around in a variety of cultures since the Renaissance in Europe to Eastern Asia in the 16th century. They have obviously changed continuously over the years as has their usage rates in each country and culture throughout the world. Condoms started to be used at the beginning of the 19th century more frequently however as the years progressed, their use rapidly declined. By the 1960’s many were practicing “free love” and having sexual relations without any protection. Though the study of STD’s and STI’s have been around long before the current age, they were previously more frequently referred to as VD’s aka venerial diseases. In the 1980’s upon the onset of HIV/AIDS, condoms started to be heavily promoted as it was seen as the most effective method of protection from STI’s including the newest virus that had made its presence known. So here we are over 30 years later and we still have rising HIV infections in many parts of the world. This blog will mainly focus on North America and more specifically the US because that is where I live and have the most knowledge on as far as statistics ext…. In the US alone we have had a constant rate of HIV infections, over 50,000 per year, for a number of years now. Some of the hardest hit areas of Africa have better rates of reducing HIV infections than here in the US, it leaves any activist to ponder the question, why is this?

Why is it that we have so much information about how to prevent HIV however new infections continue to happen across the board? Is it because of ignorance, miseducation, or lack of trying to promote the message? In some populations here in the US, the number of HIV infections is heavily on the rise including the gay community. Some studies show an alarming amount of 50 % of gay men do not use condoms or fail to use them consistently. In the hetero community numbers are just as staggering with condom use being almost as low as our lgbt counterparts, with lower rates of condom usage amongst impoverished heteros as well as a disproportionate number of African Americans/Latinos. So across the board it is safe to say that people are not using condoms as consistently as they should, why is this ?

Well one of the driving factors of people not using condoms, despite knowing the consequences, is the lack of fear that exists now regarding HIV/AIDS. Before I was even born, many were watching their friends and family die of AIDS left and right. The faces of those living with AIDS were plastered across the news while the government did very little to further causes to help those in need. The images of those battling pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, and bodies riddled with purple lesions of kaposi’s sarcomay have long left the minds of many. Though we have many currently living in North America who are considered “Long Term Survivors” aka LTS’s of HIV/AIDS, the images of those dying by the millions from a new emerging virus have vanished from every day conversation. For those who saw these things happening first hand in front of them, it is something that will never be forgotten, however, for the overwhelming majority of North America, it has become nothing more than part of history. Part of the reason for this is the ongoing battle that all of us who are living with HIV/AIDS constantly fight to show people that one can continue to live a happy and normal life while living with this condition. We have done such a good job at defeating this stigma and enough people have shared their stories to make it appear as a more “normal” chronic condition than ever before.

People are now so confident that living with HIV is as easy as 1,2,3 that they are becoming careless and not using what we know is the best method for prevention. People do fear what they do not know but many feel they have become so “educated” about this virus over the years, that condoms are not of importance. This couldn’t be further from the truth, condoms are of the upmost importance. We have to find the balance between fighting stigma while still having an element of that fear. Yes we currently have treatment that helps us all live long and healthy lives but we also know that a very small percentage of people in North America are currently on ARV treatment with undetectable viral loads. The medicine has greatly advanced over the years however we know the staggering numbers of people that do not know their status. We are aware that many are aging with HIV/AIDS today and it is becoming a new issue at hand however without medicine this virus is still just as deadly as it was over 3 decades ago. People are receiving much “misinformation” which they think is truthful about this virus and thinking they are not at risk. We have “categorized” people living with HIV/AIDS due to government funding while saying to people that these people are at the highest risk, then this group, then the following… We are all at risk ! We need to get risk groups out of our mind, it is doing nothing but hurting the cause. Fear is not something that we should try to promote however an element of it keeps people from contracting HIV/AIDS. Finding the medium between these two campaigns is one of the keys to getting people to use condoms as they should be doing.

We currently have many in North America and across the world speaking up and sharing their story, this is absolutely fantastic. More people daily are starting to realize that this is a condition just like any other one such as cancer, alzheimers, or diabetes. Their is no shame in speaking up or trying to be an activist, however, much more need to be doing this to really be effective. It is a personal decision for each individual person living with the virus wether or not they are going to speak up, I personally have made that choice, and am very happy with it. I have a passion to help others and prevent new infections, not everyone has that in them, and that is OK. However many people cannot relate to those of us living with HIV/AIDS because they don’t know anyone living with the virus. In the LGBT community here in America it is a little bit different because from my experience of friends in these communities, usually, someone always knows of “someone” who is living with the virus. In the heterosexual community this is not always the case, before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know one person who was “openly” living with it. I may have known many living with it however they didn’t know their status.

Being able to relate with someone who is currently living with the virus and knowing their ups and downs helps greatly in encouraging someone to protect themselves. That is one of the reasons that I am an activist because their is such a lack of hetero activists in this part of the world speaking up and letting people know this truly can happen to anyone. When we share our stories people have to be able to relate to us to really connect. I will have a lot more of an effectiveness speaking to a group of hetero college students than someone who is LGBT just as someone who is LGBT would have a lot more of an effectiveness speaking to a group of LGBT youth than I would. It is not to say it is bad when anyone attempts to speak to a group that they don’t necessarily relate to and share their story, we all have something in common we can find in each other, however relating goes a long way in terms of prevention. When I was in human sexuality a couple years before being diagnosed hearing an HIV positive gay man talk to our class about prevention, it didn’t feel like it applied to me, if anything it added to the stigma I already had in my mind. It didn’t make me want to go out and buy a pack of trojan condoms because in my mind it only happened to some and not all. I am obviously much more educated now and know better however point being, we need more people to speak up. We need people to speak up from all demographics, sexual orientations, races, cultures, languages, and walks of life. The more people we have speak up, the more people we can reach, the more that will use protection. It is not always easy to be the face of this virus however helping others is well worth it and in my opinion, we need more of that.

The third reason that I believe condom use is not penetrating the rising infections is their is something that doesn’t seem “natural” about putting a barrier in between ourselves and our partners. We know that most people who are married don’t use condoms consistently because we are taught that is what you do when you are in “love” with someone. The truth now days is that if you truly love someone you will protect yourself and them, it is the right thing to do. Even condom companies are consistently promoting new condoms that are thinner and thinner with names such as “Ultra Thin”, “Bare Skin Barriers”, “Extra Sensitive”, and others…. We have it engrained in our minds that using a condom just doesn’t feel right, having bare sex feels much better. I am not going to disagree that having sex without a condom compared to a condom doesn’t feel better, I am sure most of us would agree it does, however knowing that both myself and my partner are safe feels a whole lot better to me. Condoms can still be pleasurable and with all the different designs they are currently producing, their is no reason that this should be a valid excuse. When I contracted HIV I was trying to have a child with my ex girlfriend, at the time we obviously weren’t using a condom because no baby comes that way. It felt like we were in love, for the first time I thought I had found the one, then came my diagnosis months later after I had found out she cheated.

Their are a number of other different techniques now known as “risk reduction” strategies such as PreP/PeP, Sero Sorting, and Sero Positioning that are becoming increasingly popular. The effectiveness of these studies boast their results while still stating that it is not a replacement for consistent condom usage. As we know all of these are great techniques in “reducing” the risk but they are not “replacements” for the latex barrier that has become so common in todays day and age. Many people even some activists I know, are unintentionally promoting these techniques in the wrong way. Their is an over abundance of activists who have “given up” on the prevention method for lack of results in an attempt to reach the other 50% of people choosing not to use condoms. So is the problem that the message of condoms is flawed? Is the prevention effort many have worked so hard to promote over the years not working any longer?

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I would say that the message is not flawed and prevention needs to be of the upmost importance. We can’t just simply give up on something we know to be so effective because people feel it is not giving the expected results fast enough. We need to truly look at how we can adjust the message to the current day and age. Hook up sites both gay and hetero are also another trending issue of why HIV is becoming so rapidly spread, sex has never been so easy to find. It is as easy as downloading an application, logging on, and finding what one is looking for. The idea of risky sex is becoming more popular which is scary. I am not going to tell someone who is having unprotected sex that it is wrong, they know it is wrong, however I can offer my story and why prevention should be implemented. If I can even reach one person with what I have went through over the past couple of years with this virus then my mission is complete, if I can reach more, great. The message itself is not the problem, its the issue of people not knowing how to implement an age old method with the current generation. It is the lack of fear, the lack of people speaking up that others can relate to, and the overwhelming thought that protection is just not something you do when you care about someone. The risk reduction strategies currently in place are certainly a step in the right direction but their is a reason that the majority of the scientific and medical community are not supporting them, condoms are the best, plain and simple. We as activist have to conform to how to get the prevention method out their across the board today however trying to “skirt” around the condom issue and act like it hasn’t helped anybody is naive. We must use our brains and help all that are sexually active and at risk for STI’s including HIV/AIDS. It is a matter of will, we can’t just give up, so please I urge you as always, PROTECT YOURSELF <3.

Thank you for reading yet another blog on PozitiveHope, I hope you enjoyed it. As always a big thanks to one of my biggest supporters to date, http://www.positivelite.com , for continuing to share my blogs/vlogs and giving an importance to the HIV + hetero perspective which is missing in much of our fight today. Make sure to check out the articles on their site as well as the other contributors who are fighting for the cause. Remember we are all in this together, one person at a time, we can end this epidemic. We need to continue to encourage people to get educated, tested, and use protection consistently. We have to teach people that they must love themselves enough to use protection.

Hope everyone is having a great day and if you have any questions regarding HIV/AIDS please feel free to email me. I am not a medical professional and never want people to misinterpret what I say as medical advice, I am simply someone who has experience living with HIV and want to share my story to whomever will listen. Stay in contact with your doctor and as always, stay healthy.

Until next time please take a moment to subscribe to my youtube channel and like my videos, I promise more videos are on the way. I would much appreciate it. Check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Sincerely

Joshua D Middleton

http://www.youtube.com/pozitivehope1

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