I Don't Care That You're Straight, You're Still At Risk For HIV

Kylah Benes-Trapp

Greetings, sweet kittens. It's me, Zara, your digital big sister.

While I love the weekend as much as the next free-wheeling, high heel-wearing, winged liner-sporting, booze-swilling, red-lipsticked PARTY GIRL, 99.9 percent of the mistakes I've made in my life have taken place during the weekend. I've spent one too many Mondays spiraling down the dark vortex of weekend guilt, regret and shame.

But hey, don't fret. Because I'm going to be here every Friday to stop you from the awful weekend fuckups that are screwing up your life. Here's this week's Very Important PSA: The Sex ED series edition.

Kylah Benes-Trapp/Shutterstock

This week, I have something very important to say to all of my sweet, precious, straight kittens. Gays, queers, lesbians, bisexuals and pansexuals, I'm not telling you to click out of this piece because I would never alienate my own kind, so PLEASE feel free to ~hangout~.  Stay a while. This is an all-people-loving article from an all-people-loving lesbian.

However, I think, as a collective community, us queer folk are a little more aware of this issue than, say, our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

So here it is:

Dear boys and girls who sleep with the opposite sex, my ~weekend PSA~ is for you this time (and they say I'm a man-hater), babes.

Just because you're straight, doesn't mean you're not at risk for HIV.

It's only occurred to me, recently, that my heterosexual friends don't really talk about HIV, even though, according to our recent Sex ED survey of millennials, it's the number one STD that both men and women are most concerned about contracting.

According to our recent Sex ED survey, millennials are most concerned about contracting HIV.

I hang out with mostly gay men, and HIV is definitely on our radar. In fact, a lot of my gay guy friends are so tapped into the possibility of contracting HIV, they take PrEp (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a medication you can take to lower your chances of getting HIV.

If you do take PrEp daily, you can lower your risk by more than 90 percent, and it's actually widely recommended by healthcare professionals (including the CDC) for people who are at high-risk for the virus.

On the contrary, when I bring up PrEp to my straight friends, most of them don't even know what it is, have never heard of it and are shocked that it even exists.

And it makes sense. The truth is, statistically, straight people have less of a risk than gay and bisexual men for HIV. According to the CDC, in 2014, an estimated 44,073 people were diagnosed with HIV in the United States. Gay and bisexual men made up 67 percent of all positive diagnoses, which definitely throws the entire gay and bisexual male community into a higher risk bracket.

But 67 percent is NOT the same thing as 100 percent. And identifying as straight does not serve as a protective barrier against HIV.

24 percent of positive HIV diagnoses in 2014 were heterosexual people. And that's just diagnoses, too. It's estimated that there are currently 1.2 million people in America that are currently living with HIV, and one in eight people don't even know they have it.

I'm not trying to be the mean, negative lesbian here to ruin your week. But I think a little bit of a healthy fear of HIV is much-needed in the straight community.

A lot of you guys aren't even getting tested, as our survey shows, and not getting tested keeps the virus spreading. We NEED to eradicate this beast. HIV, you've had your time, and it's up to our generation to put a stop to it.

Let me tell you how this whole thing even came up on my radar.

I was hanging out with one of my straight girl besties, Mia*, who was in the throes of post-unprotected-sex panic attack. "Morning-after panic," I like to call it.

"Z, I need the morning-after pill. You need to get me the morning-after pill!" Mia demanded at our traditional, shame-spiral Sunday brunch.

"Who did you have sex with last night? Not your ex, again, right?"

"No, Z. Some random guy I met at that ratchet dive bar in the East Village — that dark place with the small stairwell, where people go to get black out."

I knew exactly where she was talking about, and it's a vile, vile place.

"Do you know his name?"

"Of course not." Mia's hands shook as she flagged the waiter down for a Bloody Mary. "I can't get pregnant right now. I'm in my fucking prime."

"Well, no, you can't get pregnant right now, but what about other things?" I pressed.

"I already have HPV, and you probably do, too." Her voice was flat. She gazed into the distance with removed, dead eyes.

"What about uh, HIV?" I asked.

"Oh, girl, the boy I slept with ain't gay. Trust me."

"First of all, you don't really know that for sure. You don't even know his name! And second of all, idiot face, straight people get HIV, too."

"Not really." Mia looked down at her nails, critiquing a tiny chip on her thumbnail.

"Uh, yes, you can."

"Well technically," she rolled her eyes and put her hands up, making air quotes. "But, like, who do you frigging know who is straight and has HIV?" she sarcastically asked, ready to move on because the whole concept was totally preposterous to her.

"Um, have you ever heard of Charlie Sheen, bitch?"

"Oh yeah." She tapped her nails on her water glass.

"And Magic Johnson. And Freddie Mercury, whom you love. And Tommy Morrison, the famous boxer. And —"

"Okay I get it." She shoved her oversized sunglasses over her eyes. "I'm officially freaked out."

"I don't want you to freak out. I'm just surprised you don't think of this. I mean, one of our best friends has HIV, and I can't believe you don't think it could happen to you."

"I know, but he's gay. And I just never really thought about it as a possibility. I mean, I do this shit all the time, but I only worry about getting pregnant."

"Have you ever had a test?" I asked, trying really hard NOT to sound shame-y. I was genuinely not shaming her. I was just a little bewildered that this was something that had never crossed her mind. I mean, she's a sexually-active, educated girl, who reads and travels.

"No, I don't think so."

I sighed.

"I'm taking you to get tested. They do it for free at the gay club on certain nights."

"Really?" She asked, visibly shocked.

And that's when it hit me. I'm so tapped into the possibility of HIV because my community as a whole has been so devastated by the virus over the past two decades. We think about HIV all the time.

And I'm not kidding about the gay-club testing. It's not that uncommon to have HIV-testing vans outside of gay clubs, where you can get a rapid-result test. When you see rainbow vans with signs that say "FREE HIV TEST" sitting outside of the clubs you frequent, it becomes hard to ignore.

When you have a lot of close friends who are positive, it also becomes hard to ignore. And when half your friends take PrEp, it becomes really hard to ignore.

I grew up in such a prominent gay culture that's so open about the subject of HIV, I forget it's not something thrown into the face of straight culture so much. A lot of my straight friends don't know people who are positive. They don't have free testing offered to them, incessantly, like we do. No wonder it's not something they think about.

The bottom line is, HIV does not discriminate. I know some of us have heard that phrase a million times before, but really think about what that means. Gay people don't have a genetic predisposition that puts them at higher risk.

Instead, they're at a higher risk due to potential bleeding from anal sex and because it's a disease that spread quickly in our culture, with the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. Anyone can get HIV if they have unprotected sex. Bottom line.

Gay people can get HIV, straight people can get HIV, white people can get HIV, black people can get HIV, latino people can get HIV — everyone can get HIV. No culture, class or orientation has a built-in immunity to the virus.

So, kittens, if you're straight, you're feeling fine and you're out tonight, GOOD. We should all be feeling fine and looking sexy while out on the town tonight. We're in the bloom of our youth.

But when you go back to his apartment, and you're getting hot and heavy beneath the sheets, wrap it up, please. You're not just putting yourself at risk for getting pregnant, but you're at risk for contracting HIV, too. And while HIV is no longer a death sentence necessarily, it's definitely something we want to avoid.

If you're tempted to bareback and think, "Condoms are such a pain in the ass," imagine me. I'm curled up on a velvet love seat in the corner of the apartment. I'm wearing red lipstick and a really flashy, super-short, sequined dress, with a red AIDS-awareness ribbon adorned to it.

I'm whispering to you, "67 percent is not 100 percent, and one in every eight people with HIV doesn't know they have it. Wrap it up, babe. Wrap it the FUCK up, baby girl."

Message me, if you have to! I'm your lesbian older sister, and as long as you listen to my advice, you'll be the best, healthiest version of yourself, kitten.

And if you're afraid to get tested, definitely message me. After all, what are big sisters for? Hint: We're here to help you through these kind of things (because we've been around the block and we know the ropes — especially the HIV-testing ropes, hun).

Read more about how to have glorious, SAFE sex in Elite Daily's very own ~Sex Ed~ series.