Dr. Boyce: Heterosexual Men and HIV – No One is Talking about It and It’s Killing Us

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Everyone knows what’s going on with HIV and black women.  They are also aware that gay black men have the highest instance of HIV in America.  One group that experts are failing to address are heterosexual men of color and the role they might play in the spread of HIV.  The blog, addresses the matter, and I felt compelled to expand a bit here.

We all know at least one man who fits into this category.  He’s the guy who loves the ladies, and “lawud knows” the ladies love him.  His rolodex always has room for one more pretty girl, and because he’s “got it going on,” women are glad to enlist in his legion of sexcapades.

Some of these women know what they are getting into, but some of them might be genuinely deceived into believing that a man who’s dated 10 women in the past year is going to settle down and become the father of her children. But “out of sight, out of mind” can be a powerful psychological force, where it’s easy to ignore the other players in the game of sex when you can’t see them directly.

Here’s the problem:  Before he came to your house, he went to visit someone else.  After he leaves you, he’s going to visit the next woman. So, like a dog walking across a clean floor with muddy feet, he’s bringing in whatever germs, diseases, viruses or blood-churning infections that he got from the last woman.

Even worse, some of these men haven’t been to the doctor since they came out of their mother’s womb.  Let’s be real:  Many black men don’t go to the doctor the way we should.  Go talk to the men in your own family between the ages of 18 and 30.  Ask them how often they get annual check-ups or the last time they had a full STD panel to check for HIV, HPV, Herpes, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and all the other diseases that you can get from having sex (even when you’re wearing a condom or putting someone’s sex organ in your mouth – sorry, I have to keep it real here, this is too serious to beat around the bush).

After you ask these men questions about physical health, go ahead and ask how many women the man has slept with during the past two years.  Not to say that every brother is getting around (many of us are very responsible), but unfortunately, hip-hop culture has taught far too many black men to take pride in the number of sexual conquests they have (i.e. The Lil Wayne song where he says he wants to have sex with every girl in the world).  If a girl looks good and she offers you the goods, then you’re supposed to take it.  I remember one attractive woman telling me that she has NEVER had a man tell her no when she asks for sex.  I found this to be astonishing and I was happy to be the first man to turn her down.

What makes it easy for a “playa” to do his work is that many of the women he sleeps with don’t ask very many questions.  Some may ask about his HIV status, but that’s not a problem that a nice confident lie won’t fix.  In the heat of the moment, neither party may feel compelled to talk about any sexual interactions he’s had since he took the test, or whether he was tested for every STD, and not just HIV.  Even for those who’ve been tested, I’ve found it interesting how the “HIV-free” certification can lead some people to feel that they can do whatever they want, with whomever they want, without worrying about the consequences.

If I could bring together thousands of people and force them to be honest, I’d gather legions of women over the age of 40 to meet with a group of women between the ages of 20 and 30.  I’d ask them to overcome their fear of telling the truth about their experiences with STDs, and share information about how sexual irresponsibility can lead to devastating trips to the doctor.  The fact is that the stigma against sexuality in the black community can be costly for all of us, and women who’ve been infected aren’t exactly wearing t-shirts sharing their status.  Every time someone surprisingly dies from pneumonia at the age of 37, some may legitimately wonder if the person’s family is hiding their true cause of death.  This happens in countless families that don’t want to endure the shame of admitting that their loved one was HIV-positive.

My Masters degrees are in Mathematics and Statistics, so I am simply doing the math here.  Also, I’ve been a black man for quite a while.  When you really look around and see so many people not taking sex as seriously as they should, and so many black women being infected with STDS, you can’t ignore the role that the heterosexual male (and female) may play in the transmission of disease.  Black men must educate one another on the importance of health and sexual responsibility, and black women must confront both men and each other about the consequences of poor choices.

Finally, everyone should be tested for EVERYTHING on a regular basis, and after that, we should all be mindful of where we share our bodies. Sex ain’t nothing to play with.

 Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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