Been more than four years but Cassandra* still remembers how her hands were shaking when she got the sealed envelope that contained her HIV test results. “my facebook org had organized an HIV testing activity and a bunch of us were getting tested. my then
it’s Her anxiety began when she mentally ran through her sexual past while waiting for her turn to get tested. “I’d been having sex since I was 17, and since then I think I had slept with about 12 or 13 guys. A lot of them were flings and most of the encounters were unprotected. I found myself suddenly wondering about the other people those guys had slept with. Until then, the possibility of getting HIV had never really crossed my mind.”
Cassandra castigated herself with a litany of what ifs. “I had always thought of myself as a responsible person, but thinking about all those times when I didn’t use a condom made me shudder. I was just having fun—but I was careless.”
Her test results came out negative. Cassandra was relieved; she had dodged a bullet—this time. with HIV are men, women are at an increasing risk for HIV because of a combination of risky sexual behavior and misconceptions about how someone can get infected. Cosmo sat down with two health experts to shed light on these misconceptions:
“But only gay guys get HIV.”
“From 2013 to 2015, there was a steep rise in HIV prevalence among 15- to 24-year-olds, mostly men. But we know that some of these men have both male and female sex partners— and that puts women at risk,” says Dr. Genesis Samonte, who heads the DOH section that monitors HIV infection rates.
“We need to see HIV as centered around sexual behavior rather than sexual orientation,” explained Ivy Kristel Hapitan, an HIV peer educator and counselor at the Love Yourself Testing Clinic. “A lot of those I’ve counseled at the clinic are what we refer to as ‘MSM’ or men who have sex with men. They have sex with both men and women. Some are exploring or experimenting, others just want to,” adds Hapitan.
“But i’m on the pill.”
When Cassandra was reviewing her sexual history, she thought of how many times she agreed not to use a condom, saying, 'It’s ok, I’m on the pill.' "I was more scared of getting pregnant than getting HIV,” she recalls.
Hapitan says it’s common for a lot of women to be more concerned about getting pregnant rather than with getting HIV. “Unlike an unplanned pregnancy, HIV does not seem real until we see one of our girlfriends get infected, so we think being on the pill is enough,” she said.
The pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, only condoms can. Hapitan also cautions that withdrawal or “pulling out,” a favored but highly unreliable birth control method, does not provide protection from pregnancy or STIS. “You can get an STI like HIV from pre-ejaculation fluid,” says Hapitan.
“But i’m too to ask Him to wear Condoms.”
Usually, women aren’t that great at having “the condom talk” with a sex partner. “Girls get stuck when it comes to insisting on condoms. We’re embarrassed; we’re worried about what the guy will think or about losing the guy if we insist on condoms. That needs to change,” Hapitan says. Condoms should be like lipstick, you never leave home without it in your kikay kit. “Always be prepared. Don’t wait for him to bring up condoms. Insist on it,” she stresses.
“But He Comes from a good family and He’s educated. He Can’t possibly Have HIV.”
HIV infections in urban areas like Metro Manila and Cebu have breached what the DOH and the United Nations have referred to as a “5% threshold,” which Samonte explains as “a critical mass of people who have the virus, enabling the rate of infection to grow exponentially.”
HIV does not discriminate and the numbers are telling. “The physical map of the people with HIV is now big enough that any woman who is sexu-