Tag Archives: HIV

Yes, Condoms Deserve A Holiday Too!

Forget the Valentine’s Day candies and roses. What better way to gear up for Vday romance than celebrating International Condom Day! (#ICD2015 to you, Twitter.)

This year the AHF is changing the way we think about condoms.

This year the AHF is changing the way we think about condoms.

February 13th marks this holiday of awareness as a time to educate and celebrate safer sex. World, be prepared for thousands of free condom dispensaries and numerous safer sex events across 31 countries. In the US, the AHF (AIDS Health Organization) has organized 37 events in 12 states including some “hot zones” like the District of Colombia, which has the highest national rate of HIV in the country; and Mississippi and Texas, two states which have some of the strictest laws against public sex education and (by no coincidence) the highest national average of teen pregnancies.

Indeed, there is plenty to celebrate when it comes to condoms.

The first being that condoms are the most effective method available today that protects against both STIs and accidental pregnancy. Can’t beat that.

Each year, the AHF curates this holiday around a theme. This year’s theme is “Coolness”; that is, “Condoms Are Cool”. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “Not another lame, out-of-touch attempt to get youth to use condoms,” I challenge you to check out the AHF corresponding video series. They launched a trio of videos related to young people buying condoms at a local corner shop or “bodega”.

Here is the first of the AHF’s “Bodega Nights” video series. Trust me, you have never seen a condom commercial like this one. Unlike traditional public service announcements (PSAs) that are overtly serious and fear-based, this one actually combines condoms with confidence, fun and sexiness.

The coolness doesn’t stop there. In addition to their “Bodega Nights” video series, the AHF also released a catchy party song. It is a condom-related parody of one of today’s global hits, Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”. The hope is to renew attention of the importance of safer sex in a way that will never go out of style.

Because I wrap it
Put it on and get in on, if that’s what you want to do.
Because I wrap it,
Cause you know that you are hot, and these condoms sure are cool.
Because I wrap it
Wrap it, put your hands up, and let yourself be free,
Because I wrap it
Just love your self enough to know that protection is the key.
– “Because I Wrap It” by Danny Fernandez

You can listen to the song and download the lyrics for your Karaoke pleasures here.

View more domestic and international Condom Day events here.

I Always Thought I’d Be Skinny.

Like a lot of people, I always used to think someone with HIV or AIDS was going to be super skinny, so when I was diagnosed in 2005 I thought, “Yes, never fat again“. Looking back with what  I now know (Including my own waist line) I realise that this is not case. Yes, some people are skinny with it due to many reasons , but on the whole we are all different shapes and sizes, and some are like me: stocky.

Now in 2009, I made a decision to show the world that people living with HIV can be chunky as well, so I took part in the Walk for Life and all I wore was a t-shirt some new rock boots and a tight jock strap.

People living with HIV come in all shapes and sizes.

A cheeky way to remind us that people living with HIV come in all shapes and sizes.

Now I know this may shock some to know that I own a jock strap (6 actually) but I do and I walked what ended up being 12 miles and ended up in Soho London having a drink in a bar. We barely got any trouble from passers by aside from one nasty homophobic woman who worked for a rather famous London attraction.While dressed as a Victorian whore, she called me a sick pervert who needed to be sorted out.

Throughout the day, people loved having pics taken with me and even the police had a good giggle at my bare bum getting so much attention. Not one person that day guessed I was HIV+ though. This is sad in a way that we have such compartmentalized views or ideas on how someone who is ill should look and act.

So when you go out please try and not label people just because they maybe skinny or stocky, as any of us can and do have HIV/AIDS, or some other kind of condition and we do not deserve to be judged just as you all don’t deserve to be either.

So much love to you all. Drew

 

Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. 

Dear Husband, When Will The Condom Come Off?

The reality of TasP (treatment as prevention) is having a profound effect of serodiscordant couples today. Scientific evidence shows that under certain conditions, the risk of HIV transmission is so low that doctors now recommend some serodiscordant couple have condomless sex if they want to get pregnant. But for many, updated evidence cannot match the deep-seeded fear of contracting HIV. Armed with sources and facts, this monologue is a personal letter from an HIV positive woman confronting her husband’s apprehensions to start having condomless sex. 

DearHusbandDear Husband,

We have been in this relationship for a year and you know how I feel about you. I think you are the most wonderful man in existence, in my unbiased opinion. We share many interests, we have fun together, and in spite of my HIV status, the sex has been great. There have been no major challenges with my status until now.

As I long for a time when I could have condomless sex and exchange body fluids, an intimate act that feels like none other, condoms are an increasing reminder that we have a barrier between us. Regardless of how much lube one uses there is no condom available that does not feel like a condom. The female condom is okay but as my colleague noted, it is like having sex with a garbage bag inside you, complete with the noise of the crumpling latex.

I did get pregnant the good old fashioned way with my first child from a previous relationship and she is not HIV positive, nor is her father. I want to have another baby, but somehow that conversation gets diverted each time I initiate it. As you very well know, I do want to get pregnant naturally and our doctor recommended we try the good old fashioned way, like other hetero-couples wanting to have a child. We are in a committed, monogamous, trusting relationship. We know each other’s sexual health and HIV status. Scientific evidence presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) and discussion leading up to CROI left me feeling hopeful that soon the condoms would be put to rest.

Gus Cairns explains the outcomes of the latest PARTNER study which is showing promise while waiting for the final results in 2017. The PARTNER study is an international collaboration taking place in several European countries and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research in England and coordinated by Copenhagen HIV Programme (CHIP), in collaboration with University College London (the sponsor) and The Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, London.

“When asked what the study tells us about the chance of someone with an undetectable viral load transmitting HIV, presenter Alison Rodger said: “Our best estimate is it’s zero” (In Cairns 2014).

Seeing all of this evidence presented, along with knowing about my HIV negative child, makes me anxious as we wait for the time when we can stop using condoms. I trust you and I know you trust me but your refusal to accept new scientific evidence resulting from research studies, information that is not really new, as I was told years ago that under certain conditions I am not infectious, is making me question many things about this relationship. Mark S. King raises the question of whether people living with HIV will ever be considered safe sex partners. He refers in his writing to the ways in which people living with HIV are viewed as “suicide bombers” (2014). While reading his articles, I realized just how much work is ahead for the HIV community. But does there need to be such effort with us as I wonder if we are continuing to make informed decisions?

Who would have thought a condom could create so much stress in our relationship. Stress I was not prepared for and did not see coming as I believed you would eventually accept the evidence presented and change practices accordingly. After all, we are not in a one-night-stand as random strangers not knowing each other’s sexual history, where a condom would be used without question. We have evolved in our relationship. Or so I thought. But the continued use of condoms makes me question whether or not you can finally rid yourself of the fear of HIV transmission.

On a global scale, Bob Leahy (2014), who initially was not sold on the idea of treatment as prevention (TasP), now supports it completely, but he does remind the HIV community of “the huge amount of work that needs to be done, with advocacy at all levels being a sizeable component”, to convince institutions of the need for supporting and implementing TasP. As individuals, you and me are part of the TasP model.

Sex is not as spontaneous as it could be because we always have to ensure beforehand that condoms are nearby. The act of getting the condom ready and reaching for it is a constant, nagging reminder that screams out – “Watch out for HIV the big boogy man waiting in the corner reminding us to constantly be on guard”. I fantasize about the day when we can simply wake up in the morning and have sex without any reminders, with complete intimacy and trust without anxiety and fear.

What would I do if I were in your position?

I cannot say with certainty that I would embrace the idea and abandon the condoms without any lingering fear and doubt. I just do not know. I would like to think I would understand the science of HIV and realize that there is no real risk; that I would abandon my trepidation and in turn abandon condoms eventually. Maybe I would, and maybe I would not, preferring to hang on to the comfort and security of the condom.

Condoms are for one night stands, random sex, having sex with partners whose status is unknown, for avoiding all other sexually transmitted infections. We have none of those concerns. I have to be honest as I share my thoughts. I have thought on a couple of occasions of pursing sex with someone else who wants to have condomless sex. I need to feel the intimacy and deep connection to a man as we have sex that is uninterrupted with reminders, good old fashioned spontaneous sex. I never thought a small piece of latex could cause so much stress and doubt in a relationship. I want to maintain the status quo but on the other hand I want to have sex without condoms.

The last thing I want to do is transmit this virus to you. But as Marc-André LeBlanc (2014) so eloquently explained it, you are in fact safer with an HIV positive partner than with one whose status is unknown. I am beginning to give up hope as I try to explain that in fact, you -my partner- are safer with me as an HIV positive woman with stable, well controlled health status. I am getting impatient. There is growing tension in the relationship. If you cannot trust me and scientific evidence then I am going to begin to wonder if you have really addressed your fears, in depth, about HIV.

The province of British Columbia as an international leader in developing a model of the Test and Treat strategy, recently collaborated with China in offering services for them to implement to reduce HIV transmission through TasP, (Povidence Health Care: 2014), providing further evidence for the need to recognize how treatment does prevent transmission of HIV. I am on and adhere to treatment and am well controlled.

I understand completely and if the shoe were on the other foot. It may take some convincing on my part to trust and believe what is being presented. I am no different from anyone else and my personal perceptions and ideology take time to adjust to scientific evidence which is presented. My education about HIV came from the old fear based strategically targeted place. It is not easy to let go of those fears. They are embedded in our institutions and in our individual psyche, very deeply, I am finding out.

Len Tooley who does HIV testing, explains how “sexual health is often framed in the idea of risk instead of rewards. He goes on to explain how “this may present HIV and those living with it as the worst possible outcome imaginable, which is not only stigmatizing but often irrational and false since many people with HIV are, in fact, just fine” (In Straube: 2014).

So, will you let me know when the condom can come off?

Sincerely,

Your partner and lover.

Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own.

References
Cairns,Gus. 2014. No One With An Undetectable Viral Load Gay Or Heterosexual Transmits HIV in First Two Years of PARTNER Study. March 4

Leahy, Bob. 2014. The TasP Train Has Left The Station. April 10

Leblanc, Marc- André. 2014. FUCK POZ GUYS! February 10

King, Mark. S. 2014. When People with HIV Became Suicide Bombers  April 2

King, Mark.S. 2014. Will HIV Ever Be Safe Enough For You? March 11

Providence Health Care. 2014. China joins forces british columbia conquer hiv/aids. November 27

Straube, Trenton. 2014. Against All Odds. POZ April/May

Great Sex & HIV – Is it Possible?

I know it is possible to have good sex with a partner who is HIV negative. I did it for years. As I look back, the fear and frenzy about HIV transmission was more manageable back then, more so than now when the mere mention of HIV to potential sex partners causes them to behave in irrational and inconsiderate ways out of fear and hysteria. All of this to say, fear campaigns do not work, they do the opposite of what they were intended for. I can write forever about experiences but I do not want to bore anyone, so here are just a few from recent encounters.GreatSexHIV

1. I was pleasantly surprised when a man I met claimed he was comfortable with my status and wanted to pursue a relationship. Initially it went well but after a short while he began doing strange things, like checking to see if the condom was on during sex. That got frustrating when he upped the frequency so often that I wanted to scream – FORGET IT! How frustrating to be having sex, getting closer to an orgasm and him stopping the show to check the goddamn condom.

2. I met another man who claimed to be comfortable with my HIV status and after a great romp in the sack he promptly jumped up and washed his dick in the sink with hot soapy water. I don’t think the erection had subsided he was so fast. I walked out and never looked back on that one.

3. I can’t forget another experience with someone I had known for a long time who had not been aware of my HIV status. We decided to get intimate and he was shocked when I disclosed my status before hand. He mentioned how I did not look like I had HIV. I really wish I knew how someone looks who has HIV. He did assure me he was comfortable and well informed about HIV; not to worry. The first time we had sex it was great. The next time he came over his pockets were filled with every brand of condom on the market, dental dams, latex gloves and whatever safe sex paraphernalia he picked up at the university health center.

I checked in with him and asked if he was still feeling comfortable because he sure didn’t appear to be. Being that I had an undetectable viral load and was regularly adhering to my meds, the risk of transmission was extremely close to non-existent and we talk about this.   His answer was less than convincing, however, I decided to stop the craziness right then and there. I did not understand how we could have sex comfortably with him caressing me while wearing latex gloves. In the end, I suggested that he purchase an entire body condom, just to be sure. They must be available on EBay. Everything else is these days. This was a particularly sad situation because I lost him as a friend in the process. He left a message on my phone explaining how he could not cope with the fear of contracting HIV.

4. Now back to my HIV negative partner with whom I was in a monogamous relationship. We had the best sex for many years and at no time did he display any signs of being afraid of contracting HIV. He decided, after many discussions, and a visit to my doctor’s office to get the facts, that he was not going to use condoms. We learned that I was an extremely low risk for transmitting the virus and besides, we had been sexually active with no condoms and lots of sex for a year before I learned of my status. When I did get the diagnosis he was tested and the results were negative, as the doctor predicted. I cannot pretend I was completely comfortable with his decision as I strategically placed condoms all over the house and in the car, just in case we were stranded and wanted to have a quickie to pass the time. In the end I had to accept that it was his informed decision to not use condoms and he remains HIV negative today.

I am not encouraging people to have unprotected sex. I am not encouraging people to be reckless. I am encouraging people to use a bit of common sense. It is possible to have sex with a person who is HIV positive and not get infected. Circumstances vary for each couple. Depending on what is negotiated to protect one and other the sex can be great. I know first- hand and I long for the day when I meet someone who has the same understanding and lack of fear that my partner did in those days. Until then it looks like I am going to be having a lot more stories to tell that are less than satisfactory.

Yours unsatisfactorily,

Virgina

(Monologues are independent stories. Opinions are the author’s own). Got a question about HIV transmission and diverse-cordant couples? Ask us below. We also recommend following Shawn & Gwenn, a serodicordant heterosexual couple (Shawn is HIV postive, Gwenn is negative) that have been having great sex for over 13 years.  Learn the facts.  

Dear Dental Dam,

There is no way I am having you cover my vagina while my partner performs oral sex on me. It is simply not going to happen. I would rather have no oral sex at all, because you sound like torture, kind of like licking ice cream through the screen door.

I am having this rant because my sex partner showed up armed to the hilt with condoms, lube and you for an evening of sex. You were a new addition to the safe sex practice because a counselor at the health center suggested you to him. Obviously, you have never covered that counselor’s vagina during oral sex.

I have no sexually transmitted infections, other than HIV. My partner has no sexually transmitted infections and we are monogamous. The odds of him getting HIV from licking my vagina are about as great as being struck by a meteor. I am going to chance getting hit by a meteor. My partner is also happy to escape having to lick you- dental dam. Oral sex is the greatest pleasure and an alternative safe sex practice that does not involve you right now. Besides, I would never knowingly put someone at risk.

My partner already had the discussion with the condoms about staying off his privates during oral sex, so why the hell would I want you covering my sensitive parts during oral sex and stifling my orgasms? The condoms are bad enough and that is as far as I am willing to go with safe sex practices with my partner. You are not going to take all the pleasure out of sex and intimacy for me. It is simply too much latex and makes no sense.

I have always believed that a little common sense in each situation can go a long way. So you, dental dam, are going to be put in the bathroom drawer until further notice. I promise to seek you out if needed for some future date.

Yours Sincerely,
Virgina

Monologues are independent personal stories. The opinions shared are the writer’s own.

For information on HIV and safer sex practices we recommend these resource: The Sero Project. Rise Up to HIV. CareXO.comThe Body Q&A Forum. The Needle Prick ProjectBaseline Mag. Positive Lite Mag. Poz Mag. Just Get Tested. Connected Health Solutions. The Stigma Project. AIDS ACTION NOW. Act Up!. Testing Makes Us Stronger. and your local HIV/AIDS community center. Know your status.

For more monologues follow us on Tumblr and FB.

#WithoutShame: Storytelling about HIV

To combat the spread of HIV and stigma, we need honest discussions that go beyond politically correct ways of representing today’s realities about the virus without oversimplifying and shaming. That is what these two digital stories offer. Watch and listen.

btp_logo_printReal life storytelling is a powerful way to raise awareness about HIV and stigma. Stories not only convey information but they also communicate values that relate the storyteller and the listener in more nuanced ways. The Banyan Tree Project, run by the folks at The Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, has utilized this human resource and extended it to Twitter chat.

Viewing Stories on Twitter #BTPChat

They launched a digital storytelling initiative to combat HIV-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For those of you that don’t know, digital storytelling is a workshop-based practice in which participants write their own first-person scripts, record narration, select and scan images, add music, and make 3-4 minute digital videos- in this case, about one’s experience with HIV. The digital stories are uploaded on the project website and have been shared in panels, conferences, and other community discussions to provoke dialogue and community change.

This is how I learned about the Banyan Tree Project (BTP) and watched the two digital stories posted below. BTP organized 5 weekly Twitter chats with guest including TheBody.com and the USA Positive Women’s Network, among others, and framed questions based on digital stories they shared.
You can follow and participate in the chats by following @BTPMay19 and using the hashtag #BTPChat.

June 6, 2012, there will be a #BTPChat about HIV and Youth with the Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (@YAHAnet). It starts at 5pm Eastern /2pm Pacific Time and runs for an hour.

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Image from @yahanet

HIV and Gay/Bi Men #BTPChat

Last week’s topic was about men who have sex with men and HIV with the National Minority AIDS Council (@NMAC AIDS). Tony’s digital story initiated the chat. Sharing his experience of grief and denial, Tony emphasizes the need for community support which includes the important role of family and friends.

(All videos from the BTP can be watched on their website)

Following the video, @BTPMay19 tweeted these questions for us all to respond.

1) Tony says “Know your status, get tested, seek treatment, find support.” What do gay/bi men need in order to do this?

2) Tony most likely contracted HIV decades ago. How has the gay community’s perception of HIV changed over the last 30 years? #BTPChat

To-the-point answers (you have to be, it’s twitter!) from various HIV outreach professionals and activists rolled out. I’m REALLY generalizing here but comments ranged from issues of disclosure and stigma, the need for everyone (not just poz folks) to have updated info on the manageability of HIV; and the urgency of different ways to frame HIV facts that resonate with different communities.

In the second video “Side Effects”, a sexual health educator candidly explains what led to his choice to have sex without a condom. He reveals that he’s secretly on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and works through his guilt.

The #BTPChat question posed were:

1) PEP/PReP can protect against HIV exposure. What do you think this means for gay/bi men relationships?

2) What challenges do gay/bi men still face when getting tested/treated for HIV?  #BTPChat

Also, one of the guest moderators, @NMAC AIDS, asked if this storyteller is a hypocrite and if outreach professionals would use this video when teaching prevention? Again, I’m writing a very simplified overview but I think it’s fair to say that most twitter participants felt this story was the kind of frank discourse needed to tackle taboo subjects like drugs and unsafe sex. Every participant seemed to express support for PEP/PReP stating that it offers more options for different relationships and circumstances. Comments did touch upon the inaccessibility of PEP/PReP due to high costs. It was also emphasized that such treatment must be coupled with promoting regular testing and condoms use in appropriate circumstances. Other participants mentioned that condom stigma needs to be taken more seriously by activists.

Post-Thoughts?

The creation and (careful) distribution of these digital stories have potential to make people rethink assumptions about HIV issues and stereotypes of people living with the virus. These are not HIV experiences typically represented in national public discourse. You will not find them in H&M or state-funded sex ed classes. In some ways, they uphold harmful stereotypes that reduce people with STDs and infections as deviant and careless. The storytellers admit to dissent, recklessness, negligence and guilt. But that is the power of these stories- honest talk that keeps it real.

They expose the trickiness of discussing HIV-related topics without subconsciously casting moral judgment. People are slutty, people are negligent and irrational, people use drugs and take part in abusive relationships (be it with themselves or another).

However, these digital stories are not innately effective at combating HIV stigma and posing discussion. They require careful framing.  Dialogue needs to be monitored and kept tailored for particular audiences in order to respect the storyteller and effectively combat myths and stigma that might be decoded by the audience. I think the people at APIWellness who run #BTPChat do a great job at this and I hope they continue to twitter #withoutshame.

What are your responses to these digital stories and the #BTPChat questions?