November 15, 2010
For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
"Women haven't really gotten the message that they're at risk," said Shannon L. Hader, M.D., M.P.H., director of HAHSTA, the D.C. health department's HIV/AIDS administration, in an interview on CNN. "So we are very, very concerned with making sure that women in the District realize that HIV, in fact, is a woman's disease too."
I couldn't agree more. But whose fault is that? How many women in America go to their OBGYN or a Planned Parenthood office every year to get a Pap smear and a refill for 12 more months of some type of birth control? How many of these doctors recommend or even suggest HIV testing? None that I've been to, in multiple cities and states.
For other STDs, occasionally you are asked if you want to be tested. But I'd never been told by any of my previous doctors that I was at risk and should get tested for HIV. I've been on and off the Pill or the patch since I was 18. I'm now in my early 30s and had NEVER been told by a doctor that this was a test I should have.
Sometimes they ask if you would like an HIV test. Asking if you want blood work done at the doctor's? Really? How many people actually say yes?
When you go to the dentist they say, "You need to have this tooth pulled." They don't ask if you would like your teeth pulled.
If a doctor says this needs to be done, and they say, "You are at risk," I believe them. If they give you the option, then you can assume it's not a big deal.
It is a BIG DEAL.
Women are on birth control mostly so we don't have to hear the men in our lives complain about condoms. After a guy has been with a woman on birth control who didn't make him use a condom, they never want to wear one again. Personally, I can't tell the difference. But all the men claim they can.
Men don't have to deal with the after-sex calendar paranoia women have to go through. I used to write down my periods and sex days so I could keep track and know when I should get my period.
It has to be the medical professionals who lead in beginning to tell women they NEED to be tested. When we come in for our annual exam, an HIV test should be required. With a symptomless, deadly, incurable illness don't we want people to find out they have it as soon as possible?
At least that way, when you test positive, you know you got it in the last year. You can narrow down the list of who you got it from.
I tested positive in January of 2010 simply because I was pregnant, and it's a routine blood test. If there was no baby, I'd still have no idea. Turns out I have had this for a long time. My husband of less than a year is negative. We have been together over three years unprotected.
The ex I had before him, I was with for three years. He claims he is also "clean." So I have had this for at least six years, with no symptoms.
When I told people in my life who are single and sexually active, a few of them actually went to their doctor and asked for an HIV test. My sister-in-law had to argue with someone at her doctor's office to get the test taken. They told her she was at low risk and didn't need to have it done. She told them otherwise.
I've said before I don't blame anyone really other than myself. I do however think Planned Parenthood, which claims to be the savior for uninsured and uneducated youth, are doing a shitty job of letting the youth of America know they're at risk.
I've been to many Planned Parenthood offices over the years. They educate you on everything from the morning-after pill, to abortions, adoption, the Pill, the patch and every STD you've ever heard of -- other than this one. I've never seen a poster, or been handed a flyer about it.
I think the only way to save uninfected straight and gay people is to get the word out there. HIV is real, it's expensive, it's a pain in the ass and you don't have to get it. I told a lot of my friends who are straight and don't use condoms. A lot of my friends and family got tested after talking to me. The only thing we can do is educate, since it seems the health industry dropped the ball somewhere.
This World AIDS Day, Brooke will be speaking on this topic in Seattle. If you're in the area, check TheBody.com's World AIDS Day event listing under "Washington" (the state, not D.C.) regularly for updated details as the event is finalized.
Brooke is a recently married, recently diagnosed working mom. Her son Myles was born on July 15, 2010.
Read more of Voice of ONE, Brooke's blog, on TheBody.com.