ColumnsHealth & Wellness

AIDS Watch: Realize You Are Worth Protecting

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of health.

Kelly McCann

By Kelly McCann

In the fall of 2007, Merck & Co., one of the large pharmaceutical companies studying potential preventive vaccines for HIV, halted its trial of a genetically engineered vaccine being tested on four continents. The reason?   Preliminary results indicated it simply wasn’t working.  

This major setback, after two decades of research and billions of dollars spent, has many scientists saying they are uncertain if an effective vaccine for HIV will ever be developed. In response to this disappointing outcome, many HIV experts are calling for a shift away from ‘technological’ fixes like vaccines and vaginal microbicides to the old tried and true, lower tech strategies like monogamy and circumcision.

While the results are disheartening, I hope this study will serve to remind us all of some vitally important facts:

Very simply put, HIV is preventable. PRE-VENT-A-BLE. Except in a very few cases of sexual assault or occupational exposure, people either choose to engage in risky behavior or they choose to protect themselves. Self-esteem, substance abuse, and other factors can certainly influence one’s judgment and behavioral choices, so it is important to address mental health and addiction issues.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is this. One must actively engage in specific sexual or needle-sharing activities in order to become infected with HIV. My hope is every person reading this will vow to make better, healthier decisions and avoid such risky behaviors.  

HIV disease is expensive. It takes a toll on one’s mind, body, and bank account.

Even with the effective, life-saving medications, HIV can leave you feeling depressed and suffering from a myriad of side effects from daily bouts of diarrhea to redistribution of body fat.  

And while we don’t want to equate living longer with a dollar amount, we must be aware of a 2004 study from a group of researchers from Cornell, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Boston University. Their research indicates a person with HIV/AIDS can expect to survive an average of 24 years, thanks to antiretroviral medications. However, it comes with a staggering price tag of $618,900 over the course of a lifetime!

A man’s risk of contracting HIV from heterosexual intercourse can be cut in half (please excuse the pun) by circumcision , according to National Institutes of Health studies in Africa. Granted, heterosexual intercourse is likely not the favorite flavor of most OutSmart readers, but circumcision is still an important factor to consider. Here’s why:

The foreskin often experiences small tears during intercourse and those breaks in the skin could provide an easy portal of entry for HIV. Also, the underside of the foreskin is rich in immune cells that easily bind to the virus.

So, getting circumcised could help reduce a man’s chances of becoming infected. But before you schedule an appointment with your surgeon or pull the pinking shears out of the kitchen drawer, know circumcision is not absolute protection.  

Without a safe and effective vaccine, prevention education and the use of barrier methods are the best weapons we have in battling the spread of HIV.   Make sure you and your loved ones know how HIV is transmitted and how to employ safer sex techniques.  

Remember, condoms and other barrier methods like dental dams are the answer. Correct and consistent use of them will drastically reduce one’s chances of becoming infected with HIV and/or other fluid-borne sexually transmitted diseases.

Latex condoms come in a variety of flavors, styles, and sizes to fit the, um, tastes and sensibilities, as well as the length and girth, of the man wearing it. He can increase his pleasurable sensations by putting a drop of water-based lube inside the tip of the condom before he rolls it onto his erect penis. The lube on the inside helps the condom to move around more on the head of the penis, and that makes it feel better to the man wearing the condom. Friction is our friend!

And if the man wearing the condom wants to be a true gentleman and considerate lover, he can lube up the outside of the condom once he’s got it on. That will help to increase the pleasurable sensations experienced by his partner.

Latex condoms are relatively inexpensive. You can get a box of 12 for about $9 at any drug store. That’s a cost of just 75 cents each. Or you can find them for free or at drastically reduced prices at local community-based agencies like AIDS Foundation Houston, Planned Parenthood, or Montrose Counseling Center. And don’t forget, many organizations have staff members and volunteers who conduct outreach activities, including the distribution of condoms at local gay bars and bathhouses.  

Now you know. You know condoms are the best way to protect yourself from HIV. You know how to make them feel better during sex. And you know they are inexpensive and come in a variety of models.

So, no excuses. Now is the time for you to make better, healthier decisions for you and your partner.

Realize you are worth protecting. If booze or drugs cloud your judgment, seek help so you can get into recovery and stay sober.  

Realize you are worth protecting. Get into the habit of using a condom every time you engage in penetrative sexual activity, whether it is oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse.  

Realize you are worth protecting. And enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.

Kelly A. McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston, which recently marked 25 years of service. Details:


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