Should HIV Prevention Messages Target "Jumpoffs?"

A new study looks at Black women, condoms, HIV risk and infidelity. 

Posted: 02/14/2013 01:40 PM EST
Should HIV Prevention Messages Target "Jumpoffs"?

It’s not a secret that Black women, especially those who are low-income, are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS and STD infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women accounted for 29 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent Blacks. Also, HIV rates for Black women were 20 times as high as the rate for white women and almost five times as high as that of Latinas.

To help understand the reasons behind the disproportionate rates, researchers from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco conducted a study aimed at understanding attitudes about condom use; what sex means to Black women; and when they were more likely to use condoms.

By conducting focus groups of low-income, African-American women ages 19-22, the researchers placed the women into six clusters describing their motivations for having sex, which included Love/Feelings, For Fun, Curiosity, Pressured, For Money and For Material Things. And what the researchers found was very interesting: Regardless of what motivated these women to have sex, condom use was less than 50 percent for all sexual encounters including the riskiest types of sex.

But what also stood out to the team was that women in long-term relationships showed the lowest condom use rates. Forty-two percent reported “never” using a condom with a main partner, and 80 percent reported “always” using a condom with a non-main partner.

Other findings included:

—Participants expressed the importance of using condoms in risky situations, yet endorsed condom use during casual sexual encounters less than half the time.

—The women averaged 1.2 sexual partners in the past month. Sixty-eight percent had a main partner, and 18 percent reported infidelity in the past month.

Dr. Jonathan Eyre, one of the study’s authors, believes that their findings call for a more realistic approach to HIV prevention, one that includes the reality of infidelity.

“Current interventions do not emphasize enough on side partners and the importance of encouraging condom use in those relationships," Eyre told BET.com. "And without this focus, we are not facing reality and are only undermining our own credibility.”

But are they endorsing infidelity?  

Eyre stressed that it’s not the role of public health officials to send “moral” messages. “We should be working on messages that realistically help substantially reduce the transmission of these sexually transmitted disease,” he said.

And while this data only includes the female participants, Eyre said they plan on releasing data from heterosexual African-American men about what motivates them sexually and their condom use expectations.

This news is refreshing and needed. There isn't a lot of data that addresses straight African-American men and HIV prevention. And from what we do know is that in most instances, it’s heterosexual  men that control whether or not a condom is going to be used. We look forward to what comes out of the new research.

To learn more about condom negotiation and how to talk to your partner about contraception, go here.

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