The “Down-Low” has become a nursery rhyme for numerous Black media outlets. Incessantly, journalists sing, “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the positive HIV status.” It’s salacious, it rings in the ears of heterosexual Black women, and it sends our communities into a witch-hunt for undercover bisexual men. We publish books called The Straight-Up Truth About the Down-Low: Women Share Their Stories of Betrayal, Pain and Survival. We tune into talk shows and watch women cry about their husband’s bisexual infidelity. And then we look at our husbands, boyfriends, and boos, and conclude that we have nothing to worry about. We lay down our bodies and our youth. We take a risk. We fuck unprotected.
While Tyler Perry showcased a HIV-positive Black female in “For Colored Girls,” it is not married Black women who are bearing the brunt of new HIV infections. Since married Black women are nearly extinct, numbers alone should tell you that they are not the overwhelming faces of Black women with HIV. It’s time that we focus on the larger truth and detach ourselves from the sensationalism. We are the face of Black women with HIV: the young, beautiful, and sexually active.
Every single day, a young Black woman spreads her legs and allows a raw penis to lie inside her. It doesn’t make a difference whether the penis has been inside men, men and women, or just women. All it takes is one unprotected, HIV-infected penis to change that young woman’s life. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation. It’s about that moment between that young woman and man.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gay, bisexual, and other men who sleep with men (MSM) currently account for 63% of new HIV infections among all Black men. Of that 63%, we don’t know how many of them also sleep with women, and, clearly, not every man who sleeps with men also sleeps with women. On the flipside, 37% of Black men with new HIV infections are straight.
While journalists and concerned individuals have molded these statistics as “evidence” of the Down-Low HIV transmission theory, there simply hasn’t been a direct research study that shows bisexual men to be the leading cause of HIV transmission to Black women. Thus, I’d like to ask that we focus on what we know for sure.
In a lifetime, 1 in 30 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection, as will 1 in 16 Black men. Overall, African-Americans continue to experience the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases of any race or ethnicity in the United States. For instance, 48% of Black women have HSV-2 herpes, and that’s not the cold sore. Overall, the proven research already screams at us in volumes. It’s not about bisexual men. It’s not about straight men. It’s about us. Unless we are raped, we make decisions and take sexual risks that can have deathly results.
The unspoken reality is that raw dogging feels better than protected sex. I am the first to admit this as truth, and it’s about time we discuss this openly. When I wasn’t in a monogamous relationship, unprotected sex wasn’t really an option, but I won’t say I didn’t slip on a few occasions. I was wrong and that should’ve never happened. In terms of my long-term relationships, I have made a few decisions where I decided to have unprotected sex with my partner. Accompanying that decision, I required that we both get tested and show each other printed results. However, I recognize that I am still taking a risk. If the shit hits the fan, I’m going to blame myself. It’s not going to be my cheating partner or their sexual orientation. It’s me. It was my decision. And I don’t make potentially life-changing choices based on another person’s spoken “commitment to monogamy.” The judgment call resides solely with me.
Just to challenge the recycled stereotypes of bisexual men, I actually have numerous real life and personal experiences with them. I’ve fallen in love with a bisexual man. I’ve met numerous women who have dated bisexual men, both casually and in monogamous relationships. And I’ve randomly encountered bisexual men who are open, truly monogamous in their relationships, and practicing more safe sex than most women I know. We cannot continue to play the blame game, regardless of whether these individuals are the majority or minority. Stigma and finger pointing won’t help us in the long run. Reflections and mirrors will, though.
You are responsible for your sexual health. You make the judgment call regarding whether or not to trust your partner in a “monogamous” relationship, or friends-with-benefits situation. It is you, not anyone else. And if you decide not to wrap it up, indeed, you should embrace any consequences with personal responsibility, instead of placing second-party blame.
As Pearl Cleage wrote in What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, “I got HIV from fucking men.” A description of sexual orientation was not needed. It simply was irrelevant. To Black women having unprotected sex with men: we must take the “Blame Game” song off repeat, as captivating, salacious, and tempting as it may seem. Truly, it will just lead us into circles.
Let’s play the blame game, I love you, more.
Let’s play the blame game for sure.
Let’s call [him] names, names, I hate you, more.
Let’s call [him] names, names, for sure.
Personal responsibility will get us further. I encourage you to take it. Make your decision about your sexual health, and if you decide to go the unprotected route, know the risk. When you make your bed, you must lay in it. We need more candid conversations about the relationship between health and sexuality.
This is my honest, self-exposing message for AIDS Awareness Month. Please feel free to contribute yours.