Life-Changing Decisions + A Woman's Worth
Actress and model Melyssa Ford will be serving up a four-part series on the state and importance of black sexual health, delving into the topics AIDS/HIV. Be informed, be safe and protect your worth.
Here is a proposed statistic for you: it’s said that no less than 60% of African American women are single in this country, and they say that’s the low end of the statistic. It’s safe to assume quite a lot of us are currently in some stage of the dating game. With all of our social networking activities, we’ve increased the amount of perspective partners we have access to 10 fold.
Now, we all have our checklist of things we look for in a man (provided you aren’t looking for the second coming of Jesus in the form of Adonis, like Chilli was!), but I wonder where do health and all communication on things related fall on your list of priorities? It goes without saying, right? It’s top priority, but the statistics on the spread of HIV in the African American community don’t really support this notion.
African American women are still disproportionately affected by the spread of HIV. They are 15-20 times more likely to contract it than their white counterparts and three times more likely than Latina women--the third largest cause of death amongst African American women. That basically says that a large portion of us are a) not getting tested, b) not practicing safe sex and, c) not carrying around our negative test results and demanding that our partner show us proof of the same or the cookies STAY in the jar!
But what about those women who contracted HIV from an unscrupulous partner while in--or what they thought was--a monogamous relationship? Were they expected to ask for their partner’s status report every six months? Aren’t relationships built on trust? Yes, they are, but… Consider the situation faced by Marvelyn Brown, a beautiful chocolate sister who’s an enthusiastic advocate in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and co-author of the book The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive. She’s been living with the disease for eight years; she contracted it while in a monogamous relationship when she was 19 years old.
Like many of us, she grew up watching Disney fairy tales, always believing that her prince would come along one day. And from the day she laid eyes on David (not his real name), she believed that day had come. She loved everything about him: his walk, his talk… his scent. Prior to meeting this man, Marvelyn had never before been tested for HIV and was largely ignorant about the virus itself. Her discovery that she had the virus came while she was at the hospital for non-HIV related pneumonia. Upon being told by the doctor that she was HIV positive, she describes herself as feeling empty, simply because she didn’t know what it was or what the total life changing ramifications of this diagnosis would create. Marvelyn didn’t care to listen to any information provided about HIV prevention because she didn’t feel it applied to her. Because of her lack of understanding of the virus or the stigma attached to it, she told her family and friends and her boyfriend.
David broke up with her because he didn’t want anyone to know his positive status, and word spread about her positive status through her community and her church. At home she was forced to eat off paper plates and use plastic utensils; at church, she found judgment and scorn. Experiencing complete ostracism from her friends, she eventually dropped out of school.
What do you think, as women, we value most about life? The support and love of our families, socializing with our friends and the feeling of connectedness with our communities, correct? Have you ever asked yourself, if you were robbed of these three critical components of our identities, would life even be worth living? Who would care about the new Christian Louboutin’s we just copped, or the law degree we’d achieved or that we’d just lost our job due to downsizing? How would your faith hold up, knowing that your church--an institution that is supposed to embody the notion of the importance of social cohesion and that we are all equal under the eyes of God--has branded you an outsider and created a perceptible wall of dismissiveness between you and everyone else?
These circumstances became Marvelyn’s reality. And although she has turned a negative, life-changing experience into her own positive circumstances, what she’s had to endure is nothing she would wish on anyone. The eight pills with the nauseating side affects that she has to take every night in order to sustain her health is something she hopes you don’t have to deal with.
So the next time the “unsexy” subject of comparing sexual health status between you and a perspective partner arises, ask yourself the following questions: How much does your life mean to you? Does the concept of trust in your mate outweigh your sense of personal responsibility and self-government?
Traversing through relationships and dating these days is already like a mine field without the slippery slope of hasty or poor decision-making becoming complete self-compromise in response to another’s discomfort or objection. As women, we are the givers and nurturer’s of life, and we’re succumbing to illnesses and diseases brought on by poor choices and lazy attitudes. As it relates to our health and well-being, the only constant is this: the choice is yours.