By Tomika Anderson
My longtime lover and I were driving through Harlem when we passed a billboard that made me want to slam on the brakes and pull the car over. On it were two women — one black and one Latina — their pretty, youthful faces in lights. But under their pictures was a statistic that sucker-punched me: 93.4 percent.
As in, 93.4 of all new HIV cases among women in NYC occur among black and Latina women.
As in a mere six-plus percentage points away from 100?
"Oh, hell no!" I thought, and then turned to my boo and asked, "When was the last time you took an HIV test, again?"
Letting Down Our Guard
Sadly, the question I posed — which I certainly haven't always — is one that not enough of us are asking our partners. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, a majority of the newest reported infections among women in that city were obtained during heterosexual sex. And the number of newly infected black women is on the rise: The latest count (which covers the first half of 2009) is up nearly 2 percent from 2008.
The astronomical figure hits even closer to home for me: Not only do Black women account for more than 66 percent of all new cases (beating Latinas two to one), but the group of sistas getting infected fastest are 30 to 39 years old — an age when many of us are getting married or are trying to be married. When many of us are having children. When many of us — myself included — figure, hell, I've been in this long-term relationship for a while … I can let down my guard and trust my partner. Right?
Three days later, I got my second HIV test of the year.
I went because even though my sexual partner and I have assured each other of our negative statuses, I have never actually seen his paperwork; nor has he seen mine. Plus, even though I'm pretty sure he's not an IV-drug user, and I don't think he's slept with (or is sleeping with) men, I don't know that for sure — particularly since we are not in a committed relationship. To put it simply, I am at risk. If I hadn't seen that billboard and then thought enough to call the Department of Health to learn more, I don't think I would have fully understood at just how much risk I actually am.
Getting Infected During Our 30s
That made me think: If I write HIV-related stories for a living and I'm not fully informed about my risk, how informed is the average sista?