It wasn’t longer than ten days into my first year as a freshman in college before three of my girls all came to me to tell me that they’d caught a sexually transmitted disease.
I’d never tell them about any of the other girls who’d also spoken to me. I’d also never tell them that they’d all caught the same STD. Of the three girls, two of them were Black. All three men involved were Black.
I attended a 2% Black high school, where sexually transmitted diseases were never discussed. I mean, I’ve got to be real, here – sex was something like a unicorn, there. Never would anyone admit to publically acknowledging that sex “existed.” The one girl who got pregnant as a senior was forced to have some semblance of a shotgun wedding that was actually given a 4-page spread in our school paper because it was so rare. It was literally news. A teen girl getting pregnant outside of marriage? A pregnant teen getting married to the father of her child, in a wedding gown with a baby bump? Oh boy, better fire up the cameras!
As someone who was sexually harassed often as a pre-teen before moving to my very lily-white neighborhood, I became accustomed to the idea that I might be a virgin forever. Not because I’d had this long, drawn-out conversation with my mother about how penises enter vaginas and create responsibilities like bills and children with mouths to feed… but simply because luck decided that I would retreat more into myself and sex would be something I’d avoid for a long time.
Back to my high school, though. Lots of sex was being had – that’s for sure – but I wasn’t the one having it. My girls were around me going places and doing things that’d make me blush as a grown woman today, and they always made sure I tagged along because I was “the sober one.” I was always “the one they could count on to make sure we all went home together.” I was The Mother Hen – not because of this long, drawn-out conversation with Mom… but because it was a result of my sexual harassment that I tended to reject just about anything that was sexual.
Imagine going through your teenaged years – up into and through your early twenties – not having sex but hearing about all the “secret trips to the doctor,” getting “secret pills,” that “burning sensation” and all kinds of craziness. Sex would feel much more like an actual labor of love – literally – than anything to be entered into lightly.
I got lucky. I didn’t have any long, drawn out or detailed conversations about sex with the parents. My knowledge about the consequences of thoughtless sex came from me living vicariously through my peers… and all I ever heard about sex was the drama. The trauma. At that age? Pfft. There’s no stranger feeling than accompanying three different women to the same clinic for the same treatment. You kind of wonder if the staff at the clinic are eyeing you up and wondering if you’ll be in for that same treatment soon, too.
That being said, imagine my non-shock when I saw the following in the NYTimes:
Blacks die of heart disease much more commonly than whites, and die younger, despite the availability of cheap prevention measures like weight loss, exercise, blood-pressure and cholesterol drugs, and aspirin. The same is true for strokes.
High blood pressure is twice as common among blacks as whites, but the group with the least success in controlling it is Mexican-Americans.
Compared with whites, blacks have double the rate of “preventable hospitalizations,” which cost about $7 billion a year.
Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians, whether gay or straight, all have higher rates of new infection with the AIDS virus than whites, and the situation is getting worse for blacks and Indians. Asians have the lowest rate.
We’ll get to that top part of that quote another day…. but that last paragraph? Think about what this is sayin’, y’all. If there is a new infection with the HIV/AIDS virus every ten minutes or so and if people like me – Black women – are the most likely to be that new infection? It means that these conversations – these conversations meant to educate us about protecting ourselves, our bodies and our futures? These conversations aren’t being had.
We, here at BGG2WL, we’ve kinda known this for a while, though. It’s unfortunate, but it’s real. It doesn’t just relate weight and food, y’all – it relates to sexual health, too.
Be it because of fear, our own ignorance, or an overall lack of understanding… we shortchange ourselves and our children when we neglect to educate ourselves – and them – about their bodies, their health and their well-being… and that includes protecting themselves both emotionally and physically. They need to learn about thoughtless sex. They need to learn about emotional attachment. They need to be aware of how we sometimes allow the two to become intertwined in ways that can jeopardize our lives. Not talking to them about these things means they’ll learn these lessons the hard way. Like… catching chlamydia. Or maybe HIV. Or just being friends with and consoling people who have either disease… or both diseases.
Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day… and although I never pictured myself as someone who represents young women seeking to reclaim their lives, here I stand – or sit, for that matter – reminding myself and my readership that a key element of health and wellness is knowing. Knowing is the only way we can address prevention and protection. There’s no way around that.
The same way we protect our young girls from any other ill out in that big angry world is the same way we protect our young girls from an STD – we arm them with knowledge. We teach them the realities of what stands in front of them, we teach them the consequences of their potential actions and we teach them prevention and protection.
‘Cause, y’know… we don’t want them showing up with their shotgun wedding being documented by the school paper… and we don’t want them cluelessly coming up with an STD as soon as they get away from under their parents’ thumbs.
That’s Why I Rock The Red Pump. Because if one more voice can encourage a woman to be proactive about her health and wellness and go get tested… if one more woman can have an in depth conversation with her OBGYN about how to talk to her child and prevent her kid from being one of the ones who needs “a special trip to the doctor”… if one more woman will feel that much more compelled to read up on this stuff so she can feel confident enough to talk to her child about it? Then maybe I’ll feel like I’ve served a little bit more of my purpose here on this Earth.
Go get tested. Talk to your daughters – hell, talk to your sons, too. But talk. Get tested. And for goodness sakes, protect yourselves and your futures.
Brought to you by The Red Pump Project… ’cause every woman should have a bangin’ pair of red pumps… even if it is just to practice yoga in the sand with ’em.