Tag Archives: HIV awareness

Why We Still Need #CondomWeek

What is condom week?

Condom week is a national campaign to raise awareness not only about the importance of safer sex, but also how condoms can add to your sexual pleasure. Yes, contrary to popular belief, condoms don’t make sex less good. Many studies have found that those who report condoms reduce pleasure are men and women who do not use condoms, or don’t use them often. In other words, people who use condoms often- because they approach it with a better attitude and because they’ve learned what condoms they like- report greater pleasure with protected sex. Attitude, condom education and experience all play a role in sexual satisfaction.

That, my friends, is why we need National Condom Week.condom week

Condom Week lands at a time in our calendar when people are puckered up with Valentine’s sweets. From Valentine’s Day to February 21st, while the air is plush with intimacy, what better time to integrate safer sex into the national conscience and give out lots of free condoms!

Condom Week originally began at the University of California in the 1970s, and has grown into a educational event for high schools, colleges, family planning organizations, AIDS groups, sexually transmitted disease awareness groups, pharmacies and condom manufacturers. Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth are just a few of the hundreds of non-profit organizations who participate in Condom Week, setting up sex education booths at universities all over the country and distributing over 50,000 free condoms. These booths, as well as open public seminars, will discuss topics such as safer oral sex, using lube with condoms, internal condoms, consent, and how to talk safer sex with your lover.

So again, if National Condom Week has been celebrated to raise awareness since the 1970s, why do we still need it today?


– Only 19 states require that, if provided, sex education in school must be medically, factually or technically accurate. That leaves schools in 31 states without fact-based sex education oversight!

Over 19 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an STI. That number increases dramatically if we account for those who do not know their status.

Two-thirds of all individuals who acquire an STI are younger than 25.

– In 2013, 66 percent of sexually active male high school students reported that they or their partner used a condom at most recent sexual intercourse, compared to only 53 percent of females.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 7 (14%) are unaware of their infection.

– The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).

If I haven’t convinced you yet to celebrate National Condom Week, jump over to this article by Heather Corrina which debunks all the condom myths you’ve probably faced.

Do your part in public health and stay aware.

Cowboy Boots & HIV

After my HIV diagnosis I basically shut down and withdrew from everyone for a long time while I struggled to make sense out of it, to understand what exactly HIV was and how I contracted it. I thought at the time it was a virus that affected only gay men, along with many other misconceptions I had read in the newspaper. My doctor, who was the only person I spoke to, suggested I meet a woman he knew who was also HIV positive. He explained that she did have a drug problem in the past but it was all behind her now. I declined the invitation initially because I did not think I had anything in common with the woman. But, after more encouragement from the doctor, I agreed to take her phone number.

I met Julia at her apartment where she lived with her girlfriend Barbara. They greeted me at the door and immediately asked if they could borrow twenty dollars. I gave them the money and Julia went downstairs to see her landlord. Throughout the evening Julia and Barbara made several trips downstairs to see the landlord and each time they came back upstairs, both women appeared to be high on some substance other than marijuana.

Eventually the landlord made an appearance wearing a pair of cowboy boots in the summer heat. He sat next to me on the sofa and started flirting with me, telling me I had nice legs as he stared at me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I reassured myself all was well because he was a friend of Julia. Also, I got this referral from the doctor so they couldn’t be that bad.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door and a man burst in looking wired and out of control, on a chemical drug. He was in an agitated state and began screaming at the landlord to “give me my fucking drugs”. The landlord screamed back “you will get your fucking drugs when I get my fucking money”. The argument got so heated I was convinced one of them was going to pull out a weapon and someone was going to be seriously injured or killed.

To say I was afraid was an understatement, as I glanced around for a place to hide if shots were fired.Boots-Solidarity-1

Eventually, the landlord reached into his cowboy boots and pulled out a bag of white powder and gave it to the guy, with some harsh words and threats. I peaked in the cowboy boots and noticed they were both stuffed with bags of white powder.

During the heated argument not only was I afraid about my safety and the safety of Julia and Barbara, I wondered whether the police were going to arrive. I imagined myself being led away in handcuffs during this drug bust, pleading with the officers, as I explained I was simply visiting these ladies for coffee. I even went as far in my paranoid state of envisioning my picture all over the local news and having to explain to family and friends what the hell happened as they nodded in disbelief.

Something like – “Sure Virgina, you were simply visiting for coffee when all of this went down”.

After the scene I was beyond relieved to get home and lock my door. That was many years ago. I sometimes think about Julia and Barbara and wonder how they are doing. In spite of being in a situation where I had never felt so terrified, I liked the women. They opened their home to me and shared their stories about HIV. We connected with each other on some level.

They called a few times afterwards and left messages on my answering machine at all hours of the night. I did not return the calls but now I wish I could speak to Julia and Barbara and say thank you for the hospitality, because all these years later, and after meeting many more HIV positive people, I realize we are in this battle together, regardless of who we are or where we have been.Boots-Solidarity-2

Thank you, Julia and Barbara, for reaching out to me in a time of need.


P.S. I did give my doctor a brief synopsis of the visit with Julia and Barbara. He quietly nodded and we did not talk about it again.

Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. For more information about living with HIV, check out Rise Up To HIV and be sure to watch the online documentary, Positive Women.  

Youth-Made Announcements The Public Must Watch

The three videos presented here are like no other sexual health messages shared on prime time TV. They were made by HIV-positive youth from the Young Adult Program (YAP) at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals’ Spencer Cox Center for Health. This video initiative, designed and facilitated by the consultancy group Connected Health Solutions Inc., has turned top-down approaches of traditional PSAs on its head.

Just “wear a condom every time”

For those of you who can’t remember, public service announcements (PSAs) from the late 80’s to ‘90s predominantly involved high profile personalities like Magic Johnson and Whoopie Goldberg telling you to “wear a condom every time”. Here’s young Whoopie (nostalgia!).

Babies with Hiv and Aids 1990s by NoHivNoAids

Some of these messages were groundbreaking for the time. Others were not so effective. In our interview with the founders of the HIV Disclosure Project, we discuss how early HIV awareness campaigns were based on fear, pushing condoms as the only option to avoid death. These messages were vague. They obscured real-life information about the different degrees of risks and how to manage those risks with options suited for the individual or relationship. You certainly didn’t see Growing Pains’ Kirk Cameron speaking about “fluid-bonded” couples, or how oral sex is risky for some STIs while less risky for others. Consequently, 30 years into the HIV pandemic, STI stigma and misconceptions about transmission are still perpetuated today.

But there is hope. The Young Adult Program (YAP) at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals’ Spencer Cox Center for Health in partnership with Connected Health Solutions, Inc. (CHS), have changed mainstream top-down approaches of PSAs. They’ve cultivated a safe and critically reflective space for youth to produce their own public health messages. Upon contacting the project for an interview, however, I learned that their collaboration has been forced to stop due to loss of funding and state budget cuts.


Depressing as this is, some of the youth who made the videos below are in the process of organizing an Indiegogo campaign to help continue the program. And not without celebrity pizazz and support from DJ Caroline D’Amore (whose mother died from AIDS-related causes). Watch this space for updates: SpreadTheWordNotTheVirus. And follow CHS facebook page.

YAP and CHS behind the scenes film production of "It's Not Just a Guy Issue" PSA.

YAP and CHS behind the scenes film production of “It’s Not Just a Guy Issue”

A New Era of PSAs

CHS has been working with at-risk youth from YAP for a couple of years. What’s novel about their work is in the production process. They collectively produce online PSAs that address issues relevant to the participants. Kenny Shults, president of CHS, explained in an email that over a period of a few month, participants would run through a series of group exercises all geared towards thinking critically about a social issue (such as HIV stigma) and develop an effective script. “We then spend about a month working together to complete all of the pre-production activities such as casting, props, locations, etc. and fine tuning the script. Then everyone shows up to the shoot (1 day per PSA) to make a movie. It is an incredibly fun, interactive, educational, and inspiring process,” Kenny explains.

What results is a number of original and thought-provoking messages. The PSAs presented here were made by HIV positive young adults from YAP. The first video conveys the message that people living with HIV can give birth to and raise healthy children, have a healthy family and lead fulfilling lives. Kenny highlights this video in particular, stating:

…a number of the youth who made the “Happily Ever After” campaign are now taking their meds after making this piece. One young woman says: “Every time I take my pill in the morning I picture Emma’s face” (Emma is the name of the actress in that PSA). We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

This is precisely the point. The significance of the workshops is not the glossy quality of the final product; rather, it is the process which matters most. Making a short film by and for the very population it represents, and finding a collective voice together cultivates a transformative power from within. Participants complete the PSA with a critical, self-reflective understanding of the issue and the social structures and institutions that influence such an issue. In effect, the participants’ attitudes have positively shifted.

The second PSA, “One Condition”, tackles HIV stigma by asking the audience “What would you do?” in the situation of HIV disclosure. It’s an important PSA because not nearly enough people understand that HIV is a manageable disease. Advancements in treatment mean that risks of transmission have changed dramatically, and so too must people’s attitudes and fears.

For more about the workshop process and theories that underpins their approach, read the company’s statement and Kenny Shult’s article at The Good Man Project.

What do you think of these PSAs? Do you feel they successfully address a lack in public discourse about living with HIV? What messages would you like to see more of?

An effective condom message

I end with this last video about the importance of safer sex. Unlike the PSAs of the 1990s, this video addresses real obstacles (like embarrassment of buying condoms) and conveys real choices. It offers an alternative ending to another video about condom use and brings light to the forgotten option of female condoms. We follow a guy throughout the day as he prepares for a date, yet at each point that a condom presents itself he is too embarrassed or uncomfortable to pick one up. When the moment comes he is unprepared. Lucky for him, condom use isn’t just a guy’s responsibility.

To view more videos campaigns made with CHS by teens, LGBTQ folk, high school bullies and more, check out the My Media Life playlist by CHS.