In early October, the Ohio University chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Inc. invited the Athens office to take part in a safer sex event they were hosting at Baker University Center. Delta Sigma Theta members are passionate about public service and improving health and wellness, particularly among the Black community.
On Oct. 11th, I joined 28 students in Baker 237 for a dynamic talk about HIV basics, safer sex practices, and the importance of sex-positive spaces.
The students shared how sex-negative spaces impact their ability to reduce the shame and stigma around sex and STIs. They also talked openly about their families of origin, religion, and the attitude of “if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t happening.” The group was very open about how the sex education (or lack of) they got when growing up has impacted them as adults.
They also talked about how gender impacted conversations they had at home about safer sex. Some of the women felt that their virginity was treated differently from their brothers’ or male friends’. As women, they felt they needed to protect their virginity as something sacred. They added that the responsibility for preventing or dealing with a pregnancy seems to fall on them.
The group agreed that good relationships with medical providers, friends, and peers are vital to creating sex-positive spaces. A great relationship with a medical provider can be hard to find. As one student explained, this is especially true in BIPOC communities due to the ongoing history of harm suffered at the hands of the medical community.
They also talked about the rate of HIV in the Black community.
While HIV disproportionately affects Black women, the students in the room said they rarely discuss HIV and HIV prevention. They pointed to the common misconception that HIV only affects gay men.
This led us to talk about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), the HIV prevention medicine. Those familiar with PrEP said they recall seeing ads that feature gay men and primarily, white gay men. I shared that white gay men use PrEP at a much higher rate than other groups. When asked if white gay men were the only folks who need to know about PrEP, the students answered with a resounding “No!”
We have a lot of work to do to raise awareness and access to PrEP. Only 15.4 % of the 11,197 PrEP users in Ohio are Black, while 76.8 % are white. Only 7.8% of PrEP users identify as women.*
Raising awareness about HIV prevention depends on programs like the one at Baker. Every talk makes a ripple effect as the conversation moves beyond a single room. The students who came to Baker will take what they learned with them.
Change happens when we have these vital conversations in open and judgement-free spaces. To those who joined us on October 11, thank you for inviting me into your space and starting the discussion. The women of Delta Sigma Theta at Ohio University are helping to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and make sure people understand how important it is to know their status. I have faith that they will keep the conversation going.
After the program, the women of Delta Sigma Theta decided to plan a walk-in testing event on World AIDS Day. The event takes place on Friday, December 1, from 6 – 10 PM in Baker 235 and 237. Equitas Health will provide free HIV, hepatitis-C, and syphilis testing. People can also get safer sex kits and linkage to PrEP.
Join Delta Sigma Theta and Equitas Health in Athens on World AIDS Day!
Learn more about HIV & STI testing and treatment at EquitasHealth.com.
Get FREE condoms, at-home HIV test kits, and PrEP at OHIV.org.
If you would like the Equitas Health Athens Office to come to your organization, call (740) 331-4165.