Conference Bae Part Two: Sex Down South ATL 2018!

Many thanks to my sponsor Spectrum Boutique for their assistance with my travel for the event, as well as to the Sex Down South team!

This conference season has been a whirlwind for me, and it’s only my first! I went from not going to any sexuality conferences to attending two within the span of a month, thanks to scholarships, sponsorships, and friends who helped me.

For the uninitiated, Sex Down South is a Black-founded, Queer and POC centered sexuality conference that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. 2018 marked their third year. I’ve wanted to go to this conference for two years now, but the stars finally aligned just so and I was able to make it. i’ve had quite a few people ask me to compare and contrast Sex Down South with the Sexual Freedom Summit (check out my reflection here), but I’ve decided I won’t do that because highlighting differences between the two may make it seem like I’m positioning one as better than the other, when in reality they serve completely different audiences and I had an amazing time at both.

There’s something to be said about a space that aims to center Southern Blackness. I’m proud to be from the south, and I don’t see myself settling down anywhere else. Regionalism plays as big a role in how we approach sex education work as any of our other identities but frequently gets left out of the conversation, or only becomes the center of conversation when people feel the need to drag the South for being backwards or out of touch.

The world operates differently in the South, that’s a fact. There’s a myriad of reasons why, directly tied to slavery and religious patriarchy, but the major movements for justice in this country have started here too. The way that folks in the north, even so-called progressives, reduce us to stereotypes of ignorance and enemies of progress, erases the organizing and educating that people have done to make the south more equitable. There’s so much power in holding a conference that is open about sexuality in one of the biggest cities in the highly-religious South and I don’t think people who aren’t from here truly understand why that’s so important.

For me, Sex Down South started with a too-early plane ride Thursday morning which meant that by the time I got to the hotel, after I caught up with all my friends I was running on fumes and had to sit out most of the day’s sessions to sleep and recharge. I ended up only making it to the keynote by Ericka Hart, about the role that pleasure takes in liberation movements.

I had trouble connecting with it, but I’m chalking that up to exhaustion and the realization that I don’t think about my work being directly connected to Black liberation. I guess it is, but I haven’t given it much thought or intention for that matter. This ties into my broader thoughts about “who am I writing for”, and “why do I write”, which requires more unpacking outside of this post.

Thursday night, I went to Magic City, the world-famous strip club. I had never been to a strip club before so i really didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t want to go off just what I’ve seen on TV and in movies. IT WAS AWESOME. I’m afraid to go to any other strip clubs now because I’m afraid they won’t live up to Magic City.

Friday, the first session I attended was “You Let Her Do What?” Examinations on Polyamory and Masculinity with Bex Caputo and Kevin Patterson. I live-tweeted it, and you can find the thread here. This workshop was one of my personal “must-sees” of the conference. While I’ve known that monogamy wasn’t ideal for me for years, my relationship hasn’t been polyamorous for very long.

I’m often at a loss for helping my partner through his feelings when trying to combat the issues that toxic masculinity presents within our polyamory, so I was excited to hear people with different relationships to masculinity talk about their experiences. The workshop evolved into a conversation about undoing the damage that toxic masculinity causes, which was cathartic and healing, but ultimately kind of disappointing to me because we never got back around to the connection with polyamory.

Scaled replica of a human clitoris, courtesy of  Aria !

Scaled replica of a human clitoris, courtesy of Aria!

The great people from The Pleasure Chest hosted Lunch & Learn Mini-Workshops all weekend, and Friday afternoon I was able to make it to the session hosted by my pal Carly: Using the 5 Senses to Create an Erotic Scene, threaded here. It is abbreviated, as my UberEATS came in the middle of the session and I had to leave early.

My second full session of the day was Fuckstrology: Sex Languages According to the Stars with Gigi Robinson. I know plenty of people think astrology is hokey, but I don’t. I consider it as useful a spiritual guidance system as anything else. Learning about my chart more in-depth was beneficial because astrology can easily get overwhelming when you’re trying to learn on your own. The workshop focused on Mars and Venus placements, as Venus controls how we like to receive love and affection and Mars controls how we like to give it.

Each sign has different ways they like to give and receive affection, which when taken with your chart as a whole, can explain parts of your personality. For example, my Venus is in Pisces. On its own, that means that I’m very sensitive and want constant affection from my partners. But when taken with my materialistic Taurus sun, it manifests as a desire for gifts or food when a partner wants to show me they care, the more luxurious the better. If you’re interested in doing your (or a partner’s) birth chart, you can find the one I use here.

From left to right, my conference baes:  Victoria  of Pink Lotus Bud,  Ari  of Who Do You Kink You Are? Podcast,  Aria  of Your Heavenly Body. and yours truly.

From left to right, my conference baes: Victoria of Pink Lotus Bud, Ari of Who Do You Kink You Are? Podcast, Aria of Your Heavenly Body. and yours truly.

The last session I attended on Friday was my favorite of the whole conference: Race and Desire Roundtable with Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Aida Manduley, M’kali-Hashiki, and Kevin Patterson, moderated by Tristan Taormino. I live tweeted it here, but as a disclaimer my tweets are mostly paraphrases of what the speakers were saying.

As a Black woman in a relationship with a white man, I’m constantly thinking about race, white supremacy, and the roles they play in how my partner and I interact and express our love. I spent the first few years of my relationship feeling like I needed to apologize for or otherwise justify dating him, because it was implied and sometimes outright said to me that I can’t really be about Black liberation if i’m dating a white person. This made me insecure in my relationship and hurt us in a lot of ways. I didn’t feel like I could look to my partner to make me feel better, because, to me, he was the cause of this conflict. I would sometimes take my insecurity out on him which he didn’t deserve. We’re in a much better place now, mostly because my feelings about what it takes to do “the work” now go beyond judgments based on identity politics.

The session took so many different routes and left me with a lot to think about in my own relationship as well as how I think and talk about sexuality. It requires more than just seeing and naming explicit instances of white supremacy in the sexuality/sex ed community. It necessitates understanding the insidiousness of whiteness and how white supremacy’s main goal is to protect itself. This can manifest in actionable goals like being honest about how some of us have different labor demands placed on us for less pay and interrogating how we support white supremacy in our sexual lives. Sure, you may not have an explicit “whites only” policy for your genitals, but do you only have partners of certain classes, formal education levels, or other social markers that perpetuate white supremacist ideals of “the perfect partner”?

For people of color, it requires undoing the messaging that leads us to police the behavior of ourselves and others. When we engage in the woke olympics, we’re ultimately left exhausted from the inter-community conflict, which leaves us no more mental or emotional capacity to process and undo the damage white supremacy has caused. Even when we’re not explicitly desiring whiteness, we still have to grapple with how its benefits are dangled in front of our communities as a goal to aspire to.

Saturday brought my most introspective workshop of the conference, Uses of the Erotic in Times of Resistance by M’kali-Hashiki. I’m familiar with Audre Lorde’s essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, but this workshop allowed me the opportunity to take it out of the theoretical academic context in which I knew it and make it tangible, practical, and livable. I’ve been feeling very disconnected from myself for a while now, and I had so much going on right before the conference that I almost didn’t go.

Holding space with the other workshop attendees and connecting back with myself helped me remember why I started writing in the first place, as a form of release in a world I felt didn’t hear me otherwise. We went through different breath work techniques, and it was grounding to feel and release some of the energy blockages in my body. I’m still struggling to maintain that balance now that I’m back at home but the workshop was a reprieve.

It almost goes without saying, but I look for any opportunity to take my pants off. Shout out to Lil Kim for the pose inspo.

It almost goes without saying, but I look for any opportunity to take my pants off. Shout out to Lil Kim for the pose inspo.

Saturday night culminated in the Big Bang, a huge party with performers and giveaways. My favorite moment of the night, hands down, was when the contestants of a lap dance competition had to dance to “Stomp” by Kirk Franklin. This is what I was getting at earlier when I talked about the intersections of Southerness and Blackness and why that’s so important to see in a sexuality conference. Watching people twerk to a gospel song I grew up hearing was so beautiful I almost cried.

I just felt seen and recognized in that moment, in a way I don’t feel often. And that’s what this conference was for me. An opportunity to share space with people who weren’t asking anything of me other than for me to show up. I didn’t feel invisible, I didn’t feel exoticized, but I felt validated. I didn’t even get to all the personal connections I made, but suffice it to say that I found my people. Sex Down South 2019 is already on my calendar for next year, but I’ll remember to take Vitamin C ahead of time (con flu sucks).

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit 2018: Conference Bae!

I've been to quite a few conferences, most of them during my time in college. They were mostly based on my activism or leadership work, and each time I would go to one I'd leave feeling reenergized and confident in my abilities to keep pushing forward in my work. The Woodhull Freedom Foundation's Sexual Freedom Summit (mostly shortened to "Woodhull" or #SFS) gave me that feeling on steroids. this was my first conference as "Sexology Bae", and I had the opportunity to meet so many bloggers and educators I knew through the internet, who I will avoid naming here lest I forget a name and hurt someone's feelings.

The cat isn't part of the conference swag, but the bags underneath him are.

The cat isn't part of the conference swag, but the bags underneath him are.

I was terrified to go. I actually didn't even consider going initially because I didn't think I was enough of an expert or professional to fit in. I didn't know about it last year, and it came across very stuffy to my uninitiated eyes this time around. My friends at The Sex-Positive Blog encouraged me to apply for one of the brand new (as of this year) blogger's scholarships. I almost didn't do that either, because I hate rejection and again, felt I was too new and/or my blog was too shitty to qualify.

Thankfully, I didn't listen to my first brain. I applied and got it! The scholarship offset most of the costs for travel and accommodations, and I was able to crowdfund some additional cash so I basically broke even on expenses.

Had I not gone, I wouldn't have been able to see & hold this vintage vibrator from the 1900s currently being restored by Kenton from FunkIt Toys. Very rumbly.

Had I not gone, I wouldn't have been able to see & hold this vintage vibrator from the 1900s currently being restored by Kenton from FunkIt Toys. Very rumbly.

While you might read other Woodhull reflections that focus more on the conference itself, I feel inclined to talk about why going to Woodhull this year is the reason I'm going to continue blogging for the foreseeable future. The opportunity of the blogger's scholarship itself speaks to just how far the sexuality world has to go in terms of accessibility. I have a good paying job and still wouldn't have been able to go without significant financial strain had I not gotten the scholarship.

The conference is expensive, the hotel is expensive, and travel is (potentially) expensive based on where you live. Couple this with the uphill battle of securing sponsorships when you're not very well connected, and even getting to a space like Woodhull in the first place seems practically impossible. Now, I know that everyone has bills to pay and needs to keep their lights on, so for an organization like Woodhull to make financial accessibility a priority for bloggers meant a lot to me. 

As a new blogger, it's hard to break into the world where it seems like everyone has known each other forever. The first few years are the hardest while you're struggling to get your footing, but it's worse if you don't have any support. Even if you make connections online, it's easy to feel like your voice is lost because there are fewer eyes on you, especially when you hold marginalized identities.

Kind of like restaurants, the first 2 years for bloggers are where the most people drop off. I haven't even been blogging consistently for a year yet and I've already noticed people who started around the same time as me fall off. Meeting people in person and connecting with industry professionals is, for me, the thing that has given me the momentum to continue blogging. I wasn't necessarily close to giving up on it, but I really struggled to see my voice as valuable in an insular community that felt full to capacity.

Woodhull also helped break me out of my "talented tenth" mindset. The sex blogging world is very white and very female, and the biggest names are mostly people who do toy reviews. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but it made me feel like I was in competition with other bloggers of color to be the exceptional one, to stand out and gain acceptance. I wanted to be the Black sex blogger.

That's an incredibly toxic mentality, and my time at Woodhull helped get me out of that scarcity-based thinking and made me realize that we can all eat. Supporting other bloggers, not being in competition with them, is the way up. This was a lesson I didn't talk about much during my time at the conference for fear it'd make me out to be a bad person, and I really want people to like me. But as I've had time to process, I've come to realize that I'm not the only person who felt (or feels) this way and talking about it, not around it, is the best way to overcome these kinds of feelings. 

I got to see the infamous "Jar of Horrors" in person, an expiriment Dangerous Lilly has been doing since 2014 to demonstrate the difference between body-safe silicone and other toys made out of toxic rubbers and plastic. The melty jar smells like pool toys.

I got to see the infamous "Jar of Horrors" in person, an expiriment Dangerous Lilly has been doing since 2014 to demonstrate the difference between body-safe silicone and other toys made out of toxic rubbers and plastic. The melty jar smells like pool toys.

As for Woodhull itself, I won't do a complete rundown of every session I went to (which unfortunately wasn't many because I hit my social interaction wall on Saturday and spent most of the day in bed). The toxic toys session presented by Dangerous Lilly and Kenton of FunkIt Toys was recorded here, and I'll be doing a summary post later and a flame test of my own on Instagram one of these days.

The biggest learnings for me happened in the Bloggers' Lounge, a too-cold conference room filled with comfy chairs and the place we all went to introvert together when the activity of the sessions got to be too much. It was here that the personas I'd come to know via Twitter over the last few months were demystified, where I got to meet people behind the avatars and actually build relationships (one of my favorite pasttimes).

I know that the melty jar smells like pool toys because I opened it and smelled it myself. Featuring  Fairy Cakes Land  standing next to me,  Witch of the Wands  looking in amused disgust, and my beautiful thighs.

I know that the melty jar smells like pool toys because I opened it and smelled it myself. Featuring Fairy Cakes Land standing next to me, Witch of the Wands looking in amused disgust, and my beautiful thighs.

Big names, people I look up to in the industry are human to me now, and it's because I got the chance to sit in a room and shoot the shit with them for a few days. The sex blogging world becomes a lot less scary once you put names to faces and realize that we're all just people trying to make the world slightly less shitty. Of course, you had to be able to get a foot in the door in the first place, which ties back to my earlier point about accessibility.

It was here where I learned about practical things like building brand relationships and pitching to sponsors. The people I met and the knowledge they shared helped me feel at peace in the space, and in my role as a member of this community.

Most importantly, I got to express myself in a way that I don't get to in my every day life. It made me so happy to be among people to whom I didn't need to explain why I liked what I did. They just understood (or if they didn't they were polite about it). More brown faces would've been nice but a girl can dream and push for more bloggers of color next year.

Yours truly, mid-spank. Not pictured: the very scary lady holding two floggers. That beautiful ass next to me?  P  retty Pink Lotus Bud.

Yours truly, mid-spank. Not pictured: the very scary lady holding two floggers. That beautiful ass next to me? Pretty Pink Lotus Bud.

We had an impromptu impact play scene on Saturday night, which consisted of me bottoming for over 90 minutes and being hit with at least 5 different implements. I felt so connected with myself during that time, that the pain on my plane ride home the next day was completely worth it. That was my first time being part of a scene in public, and it was so chill! It was like any other day, except someone is getting flogged on the floor.

I'm not done using my #WoodhullLessons. If anything, I'm just getting started. I'm excited to take this energy + momentum and use it to carry me into my next year of blogging and beyond!

Fortunately, I've been offered the opportunity to attend Sex Down South 2018 in Atlanta, another sexuality-focused conference in September. I'm hoping that the Southern setting and emphasis on Blackness at this conference will help me step even more fully into my role as Sexology Bae. At the least, I'm hoping to get my ass beat again. 

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit 2018: Sponsor Call!

I've been incredibly fortunate to be award a blogger's scholarship to attend the 2018 Sexual Freedom Summit, hosted by the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. I'm really excited to be able to attend, especially as a new sexuality/sexual health blogger. I hope that my biggest takeaway is learning from folks who have been doing this work for years or even decades, because their insight is invaluable.  

As a young Black woman in the sexuality blogosphere, I find myself having to speak louder to be heard by those in the "mainstream", in order to access resources I need to advance my work. It's hard to be heard in this environment when you're counted out before you given a chance most of the time due to your age, race, and or/gender. This community is very small, and while it makes leaders fairly accessible, it presents a challenge for a newbie struggling to build a presence.

To that end, I'm reaching out for financial assistance to cover some of the remaining costs after my scholarship. I will be traveling from Houston, Texas, to Washington D.C. for the conference, so flying is my only option, as is staying in a hotel near the conference location since renting a car is cost-prohibitive because I'm under 25. I estimate that I'll need an additional $400 to cover remaining costs without financial strain. 

For companies/organizations, my sponsorship tiers are below. For entities or individuals interested in working with me or other exchanges for sponsorship, please send me an email at sexologybae@gmail.com. 

$25: 1 month of promo

At this tier, I will advertise your company as a featured partner on my Twitter page [3-4 tweets over the course of the month] and my blog landing page during the month of your choosing. 

$50: 1 month of Tier 1 promo + product review + conference promo

At this tier, I will provide the same level of promo as in the $25 sponsorship tier in addition to a product review and additional tweets with the hashtag(s) and/or tagged account(s) of your choosing during the conference itself. 

$100: 3 Months of Tier 1 promo + product review + conference promo

This tier includes all of the benefits from the previous tiers, but you will remain a listed partner on my Twitter page and blog landing page for 3 months of your choosing.

For sponsorship levels above $100, we can work together on a customized promotion plan. Thank you so much for 

My First HIV Test: Stigma and learning

As a child, I learned from newspaper ads, commercials, and billboards that sexually active people should get tested for HIV every three to six months. The CDC now recommends just getting tested at least once between the ages of 13 and 64 unless you’re part of a high risk group like men who have sex with men, sex workers, or intravenous drug users.

As a quick primer, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It makes people ill by destroying cells that fight infection (T cells), making the immune system weaker. Without treatment that can suppress the amount of the virus in the blood, an infected person will progress to AIDS, an illness that is the result of a severely weakened immune system. People who advance to AIDS often pass away within a few years after reaching that stage because their immune system can't fight opportunistic illnesses or infections like pneumonia. 

Despite knowing I should have been tested a long time ago, I did not get my first HIV test until Essence Fest this year. I felt hypocritical for not having been tested myself as someone who had been educated on how to encourage other young people to get themselves tested and play an active role in their healthcare. I was just too scared to take the same plunge I had encouraged so many people to take.

In my case, it wasn't that the opportunity to get tested didn't present itself. My university held monthly free testing days, I was connected to tons of community resources in New Orleans that had free testing, and I even have friends who are certified HIV test counselors. I was just scared, like most people, that the result would be positive and I would face the same stigma I tried to educate people against perpetuating.

Graph showing new HIV diagnoses by subpopulation (race, gender, and transmission category) in 2015. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/racialethnic/africanamericans/index.html

Graph showing new HIV diagnoses by subpopulation (race, gender, and transmission category) in 2015. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/racialethnic/africanamericans/index.html

Motivating my fear are the statistics that Black women and young people ages 15-24 are two of the fastest growing groups for new HIV diagnoses. I fall into both of those categories. Despite HIV becoming increasingly preventable because of interventions like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and shifting into the category of a treatable illness thanks to advances in medicine, many people still regard HIV as a death sentence and treat those who are HIV positive like biohazards.  

Graph provided by the CDC showing the numbers of new HIV diagnoses by age in 2014. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/index.html

Graph provided by the CDC showing the numbers of new HIV diagnoses by age in 2014. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/index.html

It wasn't until the Saturday of Essence Fest 2017 that peer pressure and the weight of my own conscience convinced me to get tested. I was with a group of close friends who all chose to get tested there. Although no one forced me to go with them, it clicked to me while trying to find an excuse to get out of being tested that day that not knowing wasn't going to make the stress of uncertainty go away, and it certainly wouldn’t help my health in the short or long term if I was positive and didn’t know.

There was a testing center set up on one of the side walls of the convention center on both days of the festival sponsored by the organization Greater Than AIDS. There were seven testing booths next to each other with a hallway in front of them for people to get in and out. The testing booths were separated from the rest of the convention by a long black curtain along which people lined up to wait while we filled out consent forms. The curtain also formed the other side of the hallway. At the exit end of the hallway there was a photo booth set up for people to take pictures holding placards with different slogans like “Know Your Status” and “I Love Me” on them.

At the table next to the testing booths there was a microphone set up where representatives from Greater Than AIDS led info sessions and discussions with different people living with HIV. Between speakers the reps would share information about PrEP and the virus itself to dispel misinformation that people may know based on old science, urban legends, or media portrayals of HIV/AIDS. Beyond the table was a covered tent for people to get a free bag with a t-shirt, water bottle, raffle ticket (for a pair of tickets to that night’s concert) and other merchandise after being tested.

The process of getting tested, from getting in line to making it out of the booth only took about 15 minutes. After filling out a consent form and an information sheet with demographic information (as well as things that could be considered risk factors such as if we had partners with whom we had unprotected sex, if we used intravenous drugs, and the kind of sex we had -vaginal, anal, and oral), we were led to one of the testing booths and placed with a testing counselor.

The counselor went over the process of the test itself, which involved a finger prick and the mixing of my blood with reagents that would determine the presence of HIV-associated antibodies. He told me that the whole process would only take 2 minutes, an even faster rapid test than the 20 minute oral swab test I previously knew of. He let me know that if the initial rapid test came up positive, he would do another kind of test and if that one also came back positive, I would have to go to a doctor for verification.

The rapid test I knew of before this point was the oral swab that took about 20 minutes I learned about during my work with Advocates for Youth. I did some research after I was tested and found out that the one used at Essence Fest was the INSTI rapid HIV blood test approved by the FDA in 2015. Because it is so new, it is still gaining traction for more widespread use. As of now it is mostly used for large scale public testing or mobile testing.

Once I was in the testing booth and seated, the counselor gave me a painless finger prick, drew blood from my finger and put it into a small plastic receptacle that contained a filtration membrane on the bottom designed to hold on to HIV antibodies if they’re present. He then put a clear dilution fluid in the container which revealed a blue “control” spot. This appears so the counselor can know the test is valid. After that, he mixed in a blue color developer, which reacts with the antibodies in the filtration membrane if they’re present and leaves another blue spot in the container if it’s reactive (meaning HIV-associated antibodies are present in the blood). This link goes to the FDA package insert for the INSTI test which breaks the testing process down down step by step. It happened so quickly I was barely able to think about freaking out before he told me it came back negative.

I felt an immense sense of relief. I was able to go back to my friends afterward and talk openly about the stress I felt, and wear the "I Got Tested" sticker with pride because I knew that  I was "okay". But in the back of my mind, I felt uneasy. I wondered if I would have been as happy to talk to my friends about taking the test had I gotten a positive result (after all, I still knew my status which is what was important right?). Would the sticker have been a source of pride still, or a signal of my shame? Would I have told anyone besides my partner? Would I even have had the confidence to write this, knowing that the only thing that would be different is the result I got in the end? I already know the answers to all those questions, and I know I'm not nearly as brave as the people I know that are HIV positive and advocate against stigma and shame.

Although large scale testing events like the one at Essence are designed to fight HIV stigma, they can unintentionally perpetuate it. The reality is that some people find out they’re positive at these kinds of testing events. The fear of potentially ruining what is supposed to be a fun time combined with the waiting period to see a doctor after a rapid test comes up positive, if a person even has access to one, can create an environment where the majority of people who opt to get tested are the ones who are pretty confident they're negative. This environment furthers stigma by making the event more about the pride in getting tested than respecting the potential emotional impact for people who find out they’re positive.   

It's easy for me to talk about my experience knowing that I'm not risking much by doing so. Despite medical advances in treatment for those who have HIV and the activism by and for people living with the illness, HIV/AIDS is still widely misunderstood in our world. Despite all the progress that has been made, HIV stigma still exists and has tangible impacts on the lives of people who are positive.  

HIV/AIDS didn’t become protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act until 2008. Before that time, a HIV-positive person or someone who had AIDS had no legal recourse if they were discriminated against in employment or housing. Even with the legal protection today, HIV-positive people still face discrimination because of outdated ideas about what it means to have HIV.

Not only can HIV-positive people face discrimination, they can face criminal charges in 33 states. The laws relate to not disclosing their status to sex or needle sharing partners, and can be used alongside more serious charges like assault or attempted murder.

The 2013 case of Michael Johnson, also known as the “Tiger Mandingo case" because of his username on gay hookup apps like Grindr, made waves after police pulled Johnson out of class at Lindenwood University, arrested him, and charged him with “'recklessly infecting another with HIV' and four counts of 'attempting to recklessly infect another with HIV,' felonies in the state of Missouri”. The arrest came after Johnson revealed to a past sex partner that he was HIV positive after they had unprotected sex. He was originally sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, although the conviction was later thrown out and upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. Johnson was ultimately granted a new trial. He has since entered a plea deal and will serve 10 years with credit for time served. Louisiana has a similar criminal HIV law, which is a felony with enhanced punishments for people who transmit HIV during commercial (paid) sex.

Discussion about HIV criminalization laws often boils down to some form of the sentiment "it should be illegal because by not disclosing, the HIV positive person is putting others at risk". The reality is that unprotected sex is inherently risky, but people who transmit other STIs that can lead to cancer (like HPV) or other unwanted symptoms (like pelvic inflammatory disease caused by untreated gonorrhea) are not dragged out of class and arrested and charged with crimes. My freshman year of college, there was an outbreak of chlamydia in one of the dorms. People got treated, not kicked out of school. The solution is not to arrest everyone who has an STI, but to stop criminalizing the transmission of HIV. However, that first requires acknowledging that HIV criminalization laws are rooted in misplaced morality and designed to further punish those society deemed as inherently criminal at the time the laws were written: drug users, sex workers, and gay men. Funneling those resources into testing and treatment would go way farther to prevent the spread of HIV than arresting people. 

Sex education is so important for this reason. People should feel empowered to advocate for themselves with sexual partners by asking about a partner's status and knowing their own, and not shy away from using protection for fear of being awkward. Increasing sex education also helps people to understand how STDs and STIs spread and how to treat them if they contract one. 

I still have so much to learn and unlearn when it comes to HIV/AIDS and the stigma that still exists in our communities, but I acknowledge the fact that getting tested in itself as a huge step for me to take and one that others should take as well.

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