‘Sexual Silence’ Contributes to Spread of HIV in Southern United States, Opinion Piece Says
"The South's inclination to avoid speaking about uncomfortable subjects" has helped make the Southern United States the new HIV/AIDS "epicenter" by encouraging "sexual silence," Michael Alvear, a syndicated sex advice columnist, writes in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion piece. The South has the highest concentration of the two groups most likely to be infected with HIV -- African Americans and low-income individuals -- and silence surrounding sex has "amplifie[d]" these demographic factors, Alvear says (Alvear, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/25). According to CDC figures cited in the "Southern States Manifesto," written by HIV/AIDS directors from various states and presented at a two-day conference in Tampa, Fla., in December 2002, more than 130,000 people in the South have AIDS, compared with about 100,000 people in the Northeast, 36,000 in the Midwest and 62,000 in the West. In addition, the officials said that the South has a bigger HIV/AIDS problem than elsewhere in the United States because of its racial and economic demographics and "a cultural conservatism that interferes with attempts to arrest the disease" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/14). One of the most effective ways to prevent HIV transmission is for sexual partners to be aware of each others' HIV status and "the only way to know is ask," according to Alvear. However, many Southerners would consider such a question "too rude for words," Alvear says, adding, "There's a tradition here -- if you can't be kind, be vague. Problem is, you can't be vague with a plague." Alvear concludes, "The South, ever mindful of its manners, is killing itself with its own kindness" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.