Does HIV Really Matter Anymore?
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?
I have also heard that the side effects from the medication and take a great toll on some people impacting their quality of life.
Tired is too soft of a word. Exhaustion would be a better word. and his status effects his mental/emotional state.I think lots of people don’t think of being effected in that way. It can cause depression,self-image issues,and strai s on relationships family,friends,and of course romantic. Not to say you can’t deal with it and be happy,but it’s nothing to take lightly
I have been positive 28 years, my medications are almost $50,000 a year, yes, $50,000 . . . and that is if everything is going okay. I have been around a while, however, people in early treatment today might spend only $20,000 a year.
Yes, there are people dying today because of the cost of HIV medication in the USA. Even the cheapest medication is about $1,000 a month. Do you have an extra $1,000 a month in your budget? In addition, medication can have painful, nauseating, changes in taste, changes in bowel movements and disabling and debilitating side effects. In addition, side effects make include long term toxicity and long term damage to some organs. It is estimated that on average, HIV takes 10 years off the life of someone who is HIV positive–even when they are on meds. So HIV infection is very serious and it is not a joke or to be taken lightly.
As someone who is HIV +, yes it does matter today, but as I have learned, life in general is 5% what happens to you and 95% how you deal with it. HIV is a very tricky disease and really differs person to person. Unfortunately we usually only get one narrative of those people, especially black men, who live with the virus. This narrative, imo, only proves to keep people living in an ignorant/scared space which prevents them from taking preemptive and reactive measures to keep them sexually healthy. I know for myself, I found out at an early age as a sophomore in college that I was pos (not knowing that much about life) and immediately took action (I had to navigate ALOT of this on my own) and because I chose to deal with it and not ignore I have not had a very difficult experience post finding out. If anything, the hardest part about it for me was thinking of myself as a statistic which I worked my whole life not to be as a blk man (thankfully I never had major side effects, I did research and had access to my meds while in grad school, can afford them now with my job/benefits, and found out there are plenty of great dudes that are willing to date me in spite of) but it was the mental piece at first that was the hardest to get over. The stigma is what keeps this virus alive and well in our community and frankly why we are not taking the control we do have, I was even reluctant to post this but pushed myself because more pos ppl need to speak out imo.
Also, I understand I was really blessed in alot of ways even through my situation and at the end of the day its just my own experience, but I just wanted to offer that to anyone who may read and feel like all hope is lost if they are in a similar space and for this gay community as a whole. You have to protect and look out for you and I don’t just mean with a condom. Thanks for continuing to keep up awareness on the issue.
“Does it matter anymore?”
Depending on who you ask. Young people (18-30) are treating this virus like a simple cold sore or a migraine headache. They feel it’s something they can live with. If you want a quick reality check on what HIV looks like in “today’s” gay scene, just log onto A4A or BGC. Do an advance search that will only pull up HIV positive men in the results. You’d be shocked at how ‘normal’ some of these guys appear. So it’s easy to see why most young people aren’t as afraid of the virus in today’s dating game. If HIV looks like a muscled guy with 6 pack abs and a 10 inch dick, most naive young people will become desensitized to the dangers of risky sex.
Appearances will lower a guy’s guard. A lot of guys also arent thinking about the guys who are positive and don’t tell their partners,so they don’t dont ask or assume condoms arent needed
HIV should be avoided and discussed when you meet someone. The discussion should not wait for when you meat someone. It should be discussed early and often. And people should consider going to the HIV clinic and getting tested together. And they should consider showing potential sex partners their documented HIV results. The purpose of showing such papers is not to license unsafe sexual practices but rather to let the other person know for sure what the HIV status was and when because people lie so much for sex.
And speaking of lying, it’s not OK to lie about your HIV status because “I always use a condom.” No, it’s up to each person to determine the risk that he’s willing to experience when it comes to HIV infection–and determining risk means that you have to be honest with him about your HIV status. If he doesn’t want to have sex with someone who is HIV positive, that is his decision to make!
The term “Full blown AIDS” is not used any more and never should have been; there is no “half blown AIDS”. You are either “living with HIV” or “living with AIDS”
People need to simply stop acting stupid. Its real out here. Having unprotected sex with random people is risky. Hell sex with people you sleep with on the regular is risky because you might not know what they are up to when your not together. I am no saint on the issue, but I practice safe sex and I get tested regularly to make sure I haven’t contracted a game changing disease that I don’t need in my life. I got enough problems, I do not need anymore.
it’s a culture. an afterthought. kinda like pregnancy. how many actually plan to get pregnant? very few. but all these ho’s poppin out babies. almost every chick got a baby daddy and not a husband. bareback is the same. just part of culture. some guys lie about it and that’s the shit I don’t like.
I am very delighted to share this experience with my loved ones. I was told the dangers of indulging in uncontrollable sex with multiple sexual partners, at first i was sceptical of such dangers because, i have a serious desire to have sex. As time progresses, i began to develop into other harmful and detrimental habits such as, heavy drinking, smoking, and stealing. My family subordinates deserted me and concluded that i would develop into a drug addict and consequently, my chances to have a brighter future would be disrupted. I neglected their admonitions and continued with my wayward life style. One day i was out with my sexcapades, to have a corobantic frenzy with them. I brought them home in the evening for sex, after having sex with with them, i noticed an abnormal pains in all my joints and i became physically debilitated. My father knew about it and took me to the hospital for medical attention. After a thorough diagnosis, the symptons were severe and constantly degenerating to other harmful infections such as frequent stooling, loss of body weight, loss of appetite and vomitting. When the symptons persisted uncontrollably, the doctor examined me and found that i have contracted HIV AIDS. I lamented and cried bitterly and concluded that, my life had come to an end. But the almighty GOD intervened and another doctor who knew the treatment of my disease treated me and i became well. All gratify DR.IKPEKU and you can reach him through this process DR…
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It’s amazingly expensive like you said,and even still it can make life hell.I know someone who is positive and he is almost always tired.not too infrequently it effects his ability to work,and as a result it effects his access to medication