While marriage offers hundreds of benefits to couples, there is one advantage it cannot guarantee – immunity from HIV.
Each year, African Americans account for almost 70 percent of newly diagnosed HIV cases among women. Unprotected sex with an HIV positive man is the most common way for Black women to become infected with the disease.
The possibility is startling: if a man is the woman’s husband, her assumption that marriage equals monogamy could cost her life. Women’s transmission routes are limited to IV drug use and sex with a man.
“The down low” (DL) is the phrase that has been coined to describe the behavior of men who have wives or girlfriends and are also having sex with men (MSM). The practice reached national consciousness in 2004 when Oprah Winfrey interviewed J.L. King, who wrote the book “On the Down: A Journey into the Lives of Straight Black Men Who Sleep With Men,” talking about his own experience as someone living on the DL.
King’s appearance on the show sparked controversy and horror for some, as he discussed a secret society of men who live on the DL. Unfortunately, after that appearance the media acted as if that behavior exists only within the Black community. But ensuing scandals that uncovered secret lives of white and Black high-profile public figures blew that conception out of the water.
Risky DL behavior occurs in every culture.
What makes living on the DL even more alarming is that of the 56,000 cases that occur in the Black community each year, a high number of those infected are African American men.
In 2006, African American men accounted for two-thirds of new infections (65 percent) among Blacks, while men who have sex with men represent 63 percent of those cases. The majority of Black men who are HIV positive have no idea they are infected.
Some women may be unaware of their male partner’s risk factors, such as unprotected sex with multiple partners, sex with men, or injection drug use.
Many women have stepped up to tell their personal stories of how they were infected by their husbands or longtime partners, finding out too late that he also was having sex with other men.
Oprah recently re-aired a show with a guest named Bridget, a Black businesswoman who sued her husband for $21 million and won, after being infected by him and finding out that he was living on the DL. She said she took every precaution until marriage and still wound up HIV positive.
While the DL phenomenon has gained much attention in recent years, there is no exact data on how infection can be attributed that behavior. However, what is clear is that women, men, and children of minority races and ethnicities are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS and that all persons need to protect themselves and others from getting or transmitting HIV.
King explains in his book that it was fear that kept him other DL men, from being honest with their wives and partners. “Fear is what kept me on the down low, the fear of losing my family, my children, (and) fears of hurting my parents, losing my relationships with cousins and extended family and the church,” he said.
The indisputable truth is that there is no cure for AIDS, and silence equals death. If we are to live, we must have the courage to participate in open and honest conversation.
To see excerpts from Oprah’s show go to http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Why-Bridget-Sued-Her-Husband-for-12-Million-Dollars.
Contact Jesse Brooks at (510) 575-8245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.