By Matara Wright
As I watch Dr. Ann Robbins give her presentation on the state of STDs in the state of Texas I am amazed at the strides that have been made by the prevention and treatment professionals. She works her way through various slides giving us the run down of which areas in STD prevention and treatment have seen improvements and where many health disparities remain unaddressed. The climax of her speech is one simple question: “Are we sexy enough?”
In a country that prides itself on individual rights such as freedom of speech and press I find it interesting that although sex is portrayed in our media on a daily basis, prevention is only talked about in health care settings. Gonnorhea infection rates are significantly lower than the rates in the 1970s, however African Americans are infected at a rate 11 times higher than that of their white counterparts. A similar situation is seen in the Texas rates of syphilis infections. As we inspect the differences in infection rates, it becomes evident that ethnic minorities are not the only ones with higher rates of STD infection; MSMs are now the group that sees the highest rates of infection. According to Dr. Robbins, in 2011, men who identified as having sex with men and men who identified as gay males, had an HIV prevalence rate of 6987 per 100,000 their rate was followed by African Americans who had a prevalence rate of 897. Why are the prevalence rates so diverse especially when the importance of condoms is stressed in most health clinics? Probably because we are not being sexy enough.
Dr. Robbins as well as other panelists introduced the concept of condom fatigue. Condom fatigue is the idea that health providers have stressed condoms so much that it begins to go one ear and outs the other. Most individuals know that they should use condoms when engaging in sexual activity but just saying “use a condom”is obviously not enough to continue to reduce infection rates in our communities. Physicians and other health care professionals must learn to think outside of the box and give patients alternate methods of risk reduction. Health and prevention specialists need to be able to communicate with their patients and clients about sex. Asking the question”Have you had any unprotected sex” and allowing a patient only to answer “yes” or “no” does not allow the physician to give the patient other ways to limit their risk of infection. Health care professionals may need to steer clear of absolutism and focus more on plan tailored to each patient’s lifestyle. Patients and providers must become more comfortable with having discussions about sexual health, but the burden does not have to be all on the medical team. Community organizations and leaders need to address these issues as well. After all, sexual health affects the community. Patients are in the health settings to receive services. Perhaps safer ways of engaging in sexual activity should be as routine a question as “what’s the copay”? Whether we are the patient, provider or community representative we all need to ask ourselves the question “am I sexy enough”?
ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
The Texas HIV/STD Conference runs from October 28-31, 2012 and takes place in Austin, Texas. The purpose of the conference is to enhance the responsiveness of professionals and systems engaged in the prevention and treatment of HIV and STD in Texas. For more details about the conference CLICK HERE.