Sisters Should Not Lay Down for the Down-Low

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December 1st is World Aids Awareness Day and I have a few words to say to Black women about the phenomenon of Black men who live on the "Down–Low." I prefer to call this lifestyle choice "Living on the Low–Down," because low–down is certainly at the core of the behavior.

AIDS is the largest killer of young African–Americans ages 22–44. Between 1999 and 2002, Black women accounted for 70% of all new reported AIDS cases.

Many African–American women did not contract AIDS from exchanging dirty needles during illicit drug use. Many did not contract AIDS through contaminated blood transfusions. They become infected through unprotected sex with straight men or with increasing numbers of gay men who are living on the "DownLow." The latter group masquerades as heterosexual, but has hidden sex with men. These sexual encounters are often "unprotected," and facilitate the transmission of the HIV virus – the virus that causes AIDS.

Black gay men may not have a choice about being gay, but they certainly have a choice about whether they will live honest lives or not. "Down–Low" men say they mask their homosexuality and resort to low–down behavior because of their belief that the Black community is intolerant of gays. I don’t buy it. Rather, I think the "Down–Low" lifestyle is, at best, an opportunity to engage in a personal preference for same sex behavior claiming the title of "homosexual" or "gay." AT worst, "D–L" behavior threatens the lives of unsuspecting women whose only crime is the desire for love and companionship. The bottom line is as a result of this behavior, too many Black women are deeply at risk for infection with the HIV virus.

Because this behavior is done in secret – you’re probably wondering, "What’s a Sister supposed to do?" The answer is simple: Black women must defend and protect themselves. Every woman who is sexually active, no matter her age, income or geographic location, should be aware of the "Down–Low" phenomenon and be vigilant about using latex condoms during every single sexual encounter. Short of abstinence, latex condoms are the surest prevention against the AIDS virus.

Women must not relinquish responsibility for their health and safety. Condoms are readily available and inexpensive so every woman should maintain her own supply. Black women must absolutely refuse to have sexual relations with a man who won’t use a condom. And let me be clear. If three sexual encounters occur during the course of an evening, then three latex condoms should be used!

The massive devastation wrought by the AIDS pandemic can be seen among our brothers and sisters in Africa. There, millions of children have been orphaned and millions of men and women have lost their lives to the disease because of lack of information, education and cultural mores that encourage male dominance. American women are fortunate to have full access to many health information resources and are far freer to reject behaviors that put our lives at risk.

WHILE WE CAN’T control the choices others make, we can control ourselves. We can be cautious and discerning about the sexual partners we choose. We can assert our right to abstain from sex until we’re sure the object of our affection is truly who he says he is. And we can surely take the small step of using latex condoms to safeguard our lives against this dreaded disease.

AIDS and the "Down–Low" phenomenon are not pleasant subjects. But on the eve of World AIDS Awareness Day, there is no more important subject to discuss. Sisters: Become Aware. Become Informed. Use Condoms. Stay Alive!!

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0 Anne 2009-05-15 12:11
This article is extremely timely, given the devastation of AIDS in black communities.
Women do need to be responsible for the partners we choose.

However, it is long past time to insist on men who are also responsible for their own behavior. Society has promoted the idea of men who sleep with various women with no commitment as "studs" while women who do the same are called "sluts." Men on the down low are particularly scary since there is often no way to determine whether that is the case. But we are the ones told to keep our legs closed and to be responsible, and a spouse or significant other who is not responsible could be the reason why some women end up just as dead from AIDS as if they had been out there.

For these reasons, my daughter and I intend to teach my grandson how to be responsible for his own behavior. Although women should be responsible, not all women are. For that reason, boys also need to be taught that even if they cannot control another's behavior, they can control their own.

We expect men to be responsible in all other areas of their lives, so something with so much life-altering consequences should be no different.
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