Black women account for 61 percent of new HIV infections among women. Thatâ€™s an infection rate nearly 15 times that of White women. And, most of those African American women were infected through heterosexual activity.
â€œUnfortunately, a lot of people associate HIV/AIDS simply with gay people,â€ Fields explained. â€œThey donâ€™t think itâ€™s only a White gay disease because there has been more attention on Black gay men. To many, itâ€™s a gay disease.â€
At the international conference on AIDS last summer in Mexico City, Marvelyn Brown told journalists how she was infected with HIV in 2003 at the age of 19 by the man she had viewed as her Prince Charming. She said he knew that he was HIV positive but did not tell her.
â€œI kept thinking to myself that he doesnâ€™t have a condom,â€ she recalled. â€œBut I thought, this is my Prince Charming and I wouldnâ€™t mind being his babyâ€™s mother if this is the worst that could happen.â€
In a telephone interview from Nashville, her hometown, Brown discussed the message she tries to convey to help others from repeating her mistake in her book â€œThe Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive.â€
â€œI have to let people know how easily I contracted HIV,â€ she said. â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter if that guy was straight, bi-sexual or whatever, in that moment, I should have been more concerned about protecting myself so that I would not contract HIV.â€
The Food and Drug Administration reports, ''The surest way to avoid [STDs] is to not have sex altogether (abstinence). Another way is to limit sex to one partner who also limits his or her sex in the same way (monogamy). Condoms are not 100 percent safe, but, if used properly, will reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.''
Brown said some heterosexual women get AIDS from men who secretly sleep with other men, commonly known as being on the â€œdown low.â€ Trystin K. Francis, an openly gay resident of Washington, D.C., said he has been approached by married men in malls and department stores.
â€œIf you went to a gay club to observe what was going on, youâ€™d be surprised by how many men are in there that look straight and probably have a girlfriend,â€ he said.
Francis said despite the pain and disappointment it might cause, men should be honest with their mates.
â€œIf youâ€™re not going to be committed to your wife as a man and youâ€™re going to sleep with another man, you need to tell your wife,â€ Francis said. â€œWhy cheat on your wife and have unprotected sex with a stranger and bring it into your bedroom or household, particularly when oneâ€™s life is at stake?â€
Fields said in addition to men on the â€œdown lowâ€ and infected men refusing to share their HIV status with unsuspecting sexual partners, the growth of heterosexual Black women being infected with HIV is also being fueled by men with multiple partners.
She said men returning from prison are also frequently HIV infected. Fields said her organization is placing more emphasis on reaching heterosexual women who may not know how to protect themselves.
â€œIâ€™m hoping it will lead to more women demanding and participating in safe sex, insisting that condoms be used and that they will get tested and become more involved with talking about it among themselves,â€ Fields said.