Single, Black, Infected? Black Women and Genital Herpes

Tatiana Mckinney

Members of the black community have to break the silence on issues of reproductive and sexual health, or problems like genital herpes will become much bigger than they are today.

Black women don’t always have the best reputations. I mean, we’re single, bitchy, and supposedly way too professional to ever please a man. Not to mention, the Centers for Disease Control decided to ruin our mojo with the recently released information that 48 percent of black women between the ages of 14 and 49 have the virus that causes genital herpes.

Dr. Adaora Adimora, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Center for Infectious Diseases, told NPR that “the racial disparity for herpes is actually less than for HIV and other STDs.” And, she emphasized that though these numbers for herpes are high, they have been pretty much stable since the last national estimate, which looked at the period from 1999 to 2004.”

As you probably guessed black women around the country have been discussing the CDC findings and they are not at all happy about the outcome. According to The Root Contributor Helena Andrews, “A girlfriend of mine thinks these newest statistics are just another arrow stolen from black Cupid. Another reason for men to be afraid of the big, bad, bossy, black woman–or at least whatever ticking time bomb she’s hiding underneath her skirt, as some kind of sexual suicide bomber.”

Another friend, Dex, has a different perspective: “If you have a nice girl without herpes, you better put a ring on it.” Who knew our common denominator of coupledom could get any lower?”

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These alarming facts are not sitting well in the black community and are causing a stir among black women who feel the statistics are going to slim their chances of ever finding a decent mate. Dr. Adaora believes that the new findings should not be overlooked, and should prompt a broader discussion within but beyond the black community, since the findings suggest that 17 percent of the entire U.S. population is infected with herpes, and that is high.

“Its important,” she explained, “because of the illness it causes for people with it, and the fact that it can be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth, and the very important fact that it facilitates HIV infection,” she said. “So, since it’s a lifelong illness, unlike say gonorrhea, it probably contributes to the high rates of HIV — especially among Blacks in the states.”

Being educated on the alarming rates of sexual diseases would be the best way to tackle what could become an epidemic in the black community. AIDS-related illnesses are killing women of color daily, and this study should not be a chance for people to point the finger, but instead a time for everyone to break the silence when it comes to sexual health in the black community. It is always interesting that as a people we stick together, but we allow and support the stigma in our own community against talking about the reproductive health of women, or even the issue that black men don’t see doctors on a regular basis, which is why many are diagnosed later with diseases that, caught earlier, could be treated.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, African American men are 61 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer compared with Caucasian men and are nearly 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease. African Americans also develop prostate cancer earlier in life, and get a more aggressive form of the disease.

“Unfortunately, men in general don’t go to a doctor until they’re sick,” Carter says. “And, like many diseases, early detection makes a big difference.”

It wasn’t a surprise that the results of the study were released on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day…it was mean to inform the population on the relationship between HIV and Herpes.

According to The Root, “Research shows that people with herpes are three times more likely to get HIV, and if you have genital herpes, the ulcers that are associated with an outbreak can act as a direct gateway through which the HIV virus can travel. And an active genital-herpes infection, whether with visible sores or no symptoms at all, can activate T-cells and makes them more vulnerable and an easier target for HIV infection.”

Herpes has taken a seat in the black community. We not only have to be educated and remember to be mindful about using protection, we also need to openly address the problem in a community that stigmatizes sexual health among women and men. The best way to fight this becoming an epidemic in the black community is to make sure you are armed with protection and you are upfront with your partner(s). Being educated and carrying the right tools could not only save your life, but protect your partner as well.

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