Exactly one year ago today, I had the opportunity to work with the Centers for Disease Control on their campaign to spread awareness and destigmatize people living with HIV. I interviewed a lovely woman named Venita Ray, and detailed her #DayWithHIV here. It was an eye-opening experience for me, for sure, as I hope it was for those of you who read her story.
This year, I’m once again working with the CDC to help spread the word about National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, held September 18th, 2016.
There are a few important words in this day’s name, like “HIV/AIDS” and “Awareness,” but the key word is really “Aging.” You see, while the overall infection rate of HIV in the US has thankfully decreased, there is a significant risk to those aged 50+ because they’re less likely to be tested. And what does “less likely to be tested” result in? Much higher mortality rates.
Now, why do you think 50+ don’t get tested? Is it because they’re too busy hanging out at the Bingo parlor or watching reruns of “The Golden Girls”? I mean, that’s what I do with most of my time and I’m not even 50 yet, so I get it. But no, the reason for the lack of testing is the stigma associated with HIV. The fear of a positive diagnosis, then of the treatment and the marginalization that follows. And that fear is causing a lot more harm than it should because those with HIV can live healthy, fulfilling lives if they’re being treated.
But let’s back up a bit and talk about why those 50+ should even think about getting tested in the first place. Yes, this part is going to be about Old Person Sex, so brace yourselves, kids. Go drop a Tums if you need to, I’ll wait.
Now, many widowed and divorced people are dating after being monogamous for years. And by “dating,” I mean “hooking up on Tinder.” And some of these people aged 50+ don’t think their peer group is at risk for HIV, so they may be less likely to protect themselves. Of course, some of them probably still have a condom in their wallet from 1968, but that should be put into the Smithsonian, not put into use. Trojans were not made to withstand four decades.
Women aged 50+ also might not protect themselves during sex because the “accidental pregnancy” ship has sailed. I mean, why worry about getting knocked up in the backseat of an Impala if you went to prom during the Reagan administration? But this age group is still at risk for HIV, which means tell that lovely grey haired gentleman you met on your Carnival Cruise to wrap it up, ladies. Even the aforementioned Golden Girls knew that.
Also, while older people visit their doctors quite often, they’re less likely than younger people to discuss their sexual or drug use with their physician. (Unlike younger people who throw that shit up on Instagram 24/7.) But people 50+ need to keep the dialogue open, not only to find out if they’re at risk, or to ask for testing, but also because there’s no shame in talking about HIV. Let me repeat that: there’s no shame in talking about HIV. HIV can affect anyone, at any time, anywhere, no matter how old, how young or how big your house is, if you’re not practicing safe sex. So can we just get over this stigma crap already? Please?
Luckily, the brilliant people at the CDC are working to help us do just that, as well as providing incredible resources for those with HIV/AIDS. Here are just some of their offerings:
- Support and technical assistance to health department and community-based organizations to deliver effective prevention and evidence-based interventions for antiretroviral therapy adherence for older Americans.
- Act Against AIDS, a national communications initiative that focuses on raising awareness, fighting stigma, and reducing the risk of HIV infection among at-risk populations. Act Against AIDS includes Let’s Stop HIV Together (approximately 40% of campaign participants are aged 50 and older); HIV Screening. Standard Care., which encourages primary care physicians to screen patients of all ages for HIV infection; and Prevention IS Care, which provides continuing education and materials for physicians to address the complex issues of those living with HIV infection.
- The Comprehensive HIV Prevention Programs for Health Departments Funding Opportunity Announcement, a 5-year, $339 million HIV prevention initiative for health departments in states, territories, and select cities, including those serving clients at risk for HIV infection.
What can we do to spread awareness, you ask? (You totally did, don’t pretend you didn’t.) Well, it’s simple. Talk. Talk some more. Don’t be fearful. Support those living with HIV. And on September 18th, recognize National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.
Do this via using or following these hashtags: #StopHIVTogether and #StopHIVStigma
By following these social accounts:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/talkHIV
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ActAgainstAIDS
- Instagram: http://Instagram.com/ActAgainstAIDS
And by reading more here: http://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/campaigns/lsht/index.html
Even a little bit of effort can make a big difference.
Finally, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I know I’m usually a humor writer, but this is an important topic that I feel we should all know more about no matter how old we are. Or how old we hope to be.
This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.