Straight Up: Why the Heterosexual Story Matters

heterosexual_300x300.jpgThe 23rd annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) provided deeper insights into pathology of HIV and the challenges the HIV community faces in controlling new infections. The conference covered everything from the first known seroconversion of an individual on PrEP to concerning statistics about the trend of already high-risk groups significantly affected by HIV. While confronted with the thought of possibly 50% of black gay men and one in four gay Latino men being infected with the virus, there is a group that seems to be missing, heterosexuals.

The rate of new infections amongst heterosexual men and women is small. The truth of the matter is gay, bisexual, and MSM are 44 times more likely to contract HIV than someone who is straight. Biologically speaking, it is easier to be transmitted via anal sex. Not to say we heterosexuals don’t enjoy anal sex from time to time, however, you get the picture.

Although substantially higher risk exists for heterosexual men in other ethnic groups, 2016 CROI results yielded results that the risk for white heterosexual men is 1 in 473.

Guess I should have been playing the lottery back in the day, right?

With people like myself being on the “bottom of the totem pole”, I wonder, do stories like mine matter?

Yes, my story matters.

In fact, it doesn’t only matter but is vital to understanding the bigger picture of this epidemic. The reality of the disease worldwide is the majority of new infections happen from heterosexual contact.

It’s easy to forget that HIV infection epidemiology differs from country to country. For example, heterosexuals continue to make up the majority of new HIV infections within the Caribbean, especially in countries such as Haiti and Barbados. The country of Cuba attributes its first known infections of HIV to unprotected sex amongst heterosexuals. In other areas of the globe, like The World Health Organization’s European Region, heterosexual infections made up 45% of new infections from 2006-2012. Africa is a continent that the heterosexual community has also been significantly affected, especially women and children.

Here in the U.S., there were approximately 11,918 heterosexuals who were diagnosed with HIV in the United States, around 30%, were male and 70% were female in 2013. Add onto that it’s estimated 1 in 8 Americans do not know they are living with HIV, and that’s possibly a much larger number than we would like to think about.

Minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately affected not only in the heterosexual community but across the board. There are a lot of pieces to the HIV puzzle now. Just taking into account of the number of heterosexual people in the United States that know they are living with HIV, the tally can stretch over six miles long. That’s still a significant amount of people if you ask me!

You can see we are simply more than a speck on the map when it comes to HIV. We do exist. One infection is far too many, but thousands of infections in the US and hundreds of thousands more, both men and women across the globe, is a pretty big issue.

The rates of rising infections may not be as high as other groups however it is still a concern. As humans, we like to look at risk and think low risk equals no risk. It’s our duty as HIV advocates to raise awareness and prevention efforts across the board. We need to unify and recognize the importance of all affected by this virus, not just a select few. While it just makes sense to put the most money towards the groups most in need, it’s important not to forget the rest of us, we matter too.

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