In recent days an article that we did years ago about a 30 year old man infecting a 15 year old boy with HIV has been generating some buzz across social media. The conversation about why it happened, who was to blame and men with HIV in communities of color, had the creators of Cypher Avenue reflecting back to a previous article concerning today’s attitudes towards HIV/AIDS and its relevance amongst gay men. We decided to repost this article to further add to the discussion. Feel free to share your thoughts.
Cypher Avenue has written many posts about HIV/AIDS awareness in communities of color, so we know the statistics. Some stats may have been eye openers; however I have been seeing negative stats for years. So when it comes to new surveys or new information concerning homosexual men and HIV transmission, my attitude is somewhat “okay, what else is new?”
That’s what I was thinking when I read a recent article pertaining to unprotected (bareback) sex and men hooking up using mobile apps like Grinder. I then asked myself, why did I have this attitude? Was I wrong to think this way? Was I becoming desensitized to another reminder of poor sexual behavior by bi or homosexual men?
Does HIV matter anymore in industrialized countries where medications are readily available for those who choose to take them? A Community Healthcare Network (CHN) survey, titled “Zero Feet Away: Perspective on HIV/AIDS and Unprotected Sex in Men Who Have Sex With Men Utilizing Location-based Mobile Apps” conducted a recent poll of 725 men.
In a nut shell, the poll concluded that of men who have sex with men (MSM) and who meet their sexual partners through the use of geo-social networking apps (like Grindr, Scruff, Manhunt, and Growlr on their mobile devices), practiced bareback sex (defined as unprotected anal sex for the survey) over 46% of the time.
What were the reasons for this behavior? Well, 84.6% reported “with condoms it does not feel the same” and 73.8% stated it was “impulsive sexual behaviors” which included being under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
With the majority of the respondents to the survey residing in Australia, South America, Eastern Europe, the UK, Canada, and in the US; the percentage of men meeting each other on mobile apps is growing.
Vancouver therapist Bill Coleman, who has worked with the HIV community for more than 25 years, adds that people are often not assertive enough to insist on condom use. “Part of it is, ‘if I insist you use a condom, then I’m accusing you of being positive or you are going to think I am positive.’”
He says often people feel vulnerable in hookup situations, or they’re expecting hot sex only to find themselves in a “boring negotiation” that may put people off. Coleman says people are not out looking to get infected, and know that fucking without condoms is a risk, but it happens anyway. As with any survey or poll, there are always those of us who are non-responsive. Personally I think these numbers are higher even though there is no real way to prove it.
In preparation to write this article, I wanted to satisfy some suspicions; so I went to different blogs and message boards to reactions to this news article. It was interesting to notice a couple of themes or “group think” in many of the responses which were…
- Group 1 “I always have safe sex”. No surprise here. Nothing wrong with taking responsibility and looking out for your own best interest by playing it safe.
- Group 2 “Straight people have unprotected sex, so what’s the big deal? I don’t see a survey on them”. This was the group that was attempting to find something offensive or homophobic about the article in an attempt to deflect and in turn, completely missed the point. The survey (which was developed by Dr Freddy Molano and Renato Barucco of CHN) was just a step in figuring out ways in developing different ways to deliver prevention messages to gay and bi men. Molano stated “We have spent a lot of money and time on condom initiatives, and I’m pretty sure that many people are using condoms, but the reality is other people have decided that they would rather have sex without condoms.”
- Group 3 “HIV is no longer a death sentence. There are medications that allow us to live normal, healthy, long lives. If I get HIV, all I have to do is pop a pill and everything is okay”.
This third group is mainly the reason for this post. There are two subsets in my opinion that make up the “pop a pill” group.
The first subset group is the young gays within the “gay generational gap”. These young gays did not experience the horrors of the 80’s and 90’s when the AIDS epidemic was killing thousands of gay men. Many of these young men (ages 13-29) account for the 61% of all new HIV infections in the US.
The other subset group consists of gays (of all ages) who are a part of our overly medicated society that help drive the multi-billion dollar prescription drug industry. You know the group that consists of those who would whether pop a pill than use diet and exercise to lower their cholesterol amongst other things.
What these folks are not keeping in mind is that “popping pills” for a disease like HIV/AIDS can be very expensive.
Depending on the time (the stage of illness) HIV treatment regimens can cost up to $5,000 per month. Even with insurance, treatment can be expensive. A Houston, Texas resident who was interviewed about his out of pocket treatment costs says despite having private insurance that covers the cost of his HIV medications, he is constantly juggling the cost of co-pays with other necessary expenses, such as rent and food.
“I just live paycheck to paycheck. I do not live extravagantly; I have simple tastes. It’s very difficult to pay for co-pays when you don’t make a lot of money. I was paying around $400 a month on the four medications I’m on and I had to really shop around,” he recalls.
Almost half of those living with HIV in the United States are covered by a federally funded programs like Medicare or Medicaid. In some states, however; you may not be eligible for Medicaid until you have full blown AIDS or are otherwise disabled by HIV. Basically, you have to be on your death bed before you can receive federal assistance.
Medicare part D, which was developed to cover medications including HIV drugs, has a restriction in its annual benefit. Recipients are required to pay $3,051 out of pocket before their basic coverage benefit is used up and before the catastrophic coverage kicks in, to cover the rest of the year’s medication needs.
This can be a substantial financial burden for many and even more of a financial burden if they are uninsured. According to the department of Health & Human Services, the uninsured are disproportionately between the ages of 18 and 34. They are also more persons of color in the US who are uninsured than whites with Hispanics comprising (30.7%), Blacks (20.8%) and Asians at (18.1%) of those who are uninsured.
So you see the “just pop a pill” thought process has a hefty price tag. Not to mention this is less money that can be put towards the things that could improve your quality of life, like savings accounts, investments, where you live, paying off debts, vacations, etc.
So to answer my own questions…
Am I becoming desensitized to another reminder of poor sexual behavior by bi or homosexual men? Yes…somewhat. Like many of us, I am tired of seeing the same negative stats when it comes to HIV/AIDS and men of color. Some major cities in the US (like DC) have transmission rates that rival parts of Africa. It does seem like a lot gay men just don’t care anymore.
Does HIV matter (should it be a concern) anymore in industrialized countries where medications are available for those who choose to take them? Yes it still does matter because it still kills those who don’t have access or can’t afford the treatment. Also many HIV positive men who do not know their status can spread the disease to others.
Financially it’s a burden because the cost to pay for the treatment could be invested back into ourselves and our communities that could improve our quality of life. Numerous reports are available that show how the wealth gap is widening between whites and communities of color.
Yes medications and treatments are here to help those who are infected live normal, healthy, long and productive lives; however the cost is still hurting us and it takes away financial resources that could be used to strengthen us.
The HIV/AIDS crisis could be very manageable in communities of color. This is something theoretically we could have absolute control over; however as long as current attitudes persists, I do feel like nothing will change the direction we are headed in. Sorry, but I do understand I am being pessimistic, but hey…here’s to HOPE! right?