Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From IRMA Intern to IRMA Advocate

Hey everybody! My name is Christine Charles, and I am originally from Ft. Sill Lawton, Oklahoma, but due to the length of time I have lived in Orlando, Florida I call Florida home. Having completed four years at Florida State University with a B.A. in Psychology I was beyond excited to have a change of scenery, so I decided to move to colder (MUCH colder) climates, and attend the Adler School of Professional Psychology, in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Because the Adler School is heavily rooted in the idea of combining psychology with social justice to help the community, we all get the opportunity to complete a community service practicum, which is what brought me to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Before joining the IRMA team, my knowledge of HIV/AIDS transmission was the following: exchanging bodily fluids through unprotected intercourse and shared needles could lead to a person contracting HIV/AIDS. Now, I may have had my fair share of sex education courses, but even those did not provide me with the expansive knowledge about anal sex, how the biological nature of the vagina differs from the rectum, or any of the advanced new HIV/AIDS prevention methods out/in the works.

Thankfully, being a part of IRMA has opened my eyes to the need for microbicides, the denial and stigma associated with anal sex, as well as all the people who are working towards creating an end to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

One of the first things I recall when I started working on the IRMA project was reading about how the rectum wall is only one cell layer thick as opposed to the vaginal wall which is composed of many cell layers, thus making the rectum more susceptible to HIV/AIDS transmission. The second fact that I learned is, anal sex is far more common than one might think (with 5-10% of the world engaging in anal sex), and that more specifically it is highly common among the heterosexual community.

Furthermore, until I read the IRMA report I had never really considered all of the factors that play into a person’s choice to engage in anal sex, however, now I understand why some may choose anal sex in lieu of vaginal sex. According to polls and research, some couples engage in anal sex for the pleasure, some use it as a method of birth control, and some honestly believe you can avoid contracting HIV/AIDS if you have anal sex rather than vaginal sex.

Although I find this information to be enlightening and informative the sad truth is that many people are just how I was five months ago, oblivious to how serious the HIV/AIDS pandemic is and ignorant to how important it is to acknowledge that anal sex is happening, and that we need to protect those who engage in it.

Unfortunately, the stigma attached to this subject has inevitably caused so many individuals to close their eyes and ears to this topic, and pretend as if it does not exist. It is for this reason that I am so honored to have gotten the opportunity to help advocate for rectal microbicides, and to help enlighten others to understand that HIV/AIDS is not just a “gay” disease.

I honestly can’t wait for the day when I am able to walk into a store and see an option for rectal microbicides alongside condoms. The fact of the matter is everyone has the right to be protected from HIV/AIDS, regardless of how you choose to have sex.

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