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To Be Young, Smart and HIV-Infected: Living a Positive Life

By , 17, Staff Writer Originally Published: January 20, 2006 Revised: August 26, 2013

Did you know that according to every nine and a half minutes someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV? Did you also know that over 40 percent of Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV are African-American?

Marvelyn Brown, 21, of Nashville, TN, is one such statistic. When she was 19-years-old, she met an attractive guy, and she thought he had everything a girl could want—looks, smarts, a really great body. Before long, the two decided to get intimate.

“The last thing that was on my mind was [using] a condom because I was thinking, ‘He wants to have sex with me and he doesn’t have protection?’…You know, I’m thinking I feel privileged,” says Marvelyn.

Some weeks later, after going to the hospital for what she thought was an unrelated illness and being subjected to a battery of tests, she discovered that her boyfriend really did have “everything,” including HIV, which he never bothered to mention.

Marvelyn learned the hard way that you cannot tell by looking at someone if he or she is infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Anybody can have HIV, even good-looking guys with charming personalities. Marvelyn now knows that not only do you have to be careful with contraception if you’re having sex, but you also have to take measures to protect yourself from life-threatening diseases like HIV by getting tested and using a condom every time you have sex.

Anybody can have HIV, even good-looking guys with charming personalities.

The Reaction of Friends & Family

In a southern town like Nashville, located smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt, Marvelyn has had to deal with the judgment and name-calling of people who think HIV is only a gay men’s disease.

Her family, fortunately, was aware of the ignorance surrounding the disease and supported her. But, she says, even they “did not want me to tell anyone in fear of rejection.”

And they were right. Rejection from peers was a reality that hit Marvelyn hard. She lost nearly all of her friends once she informed them of her status. She recalls that the only friend who remained loyal was her “best friend Courtney…. because she was educated about HIV/AIDS.” She says, “I walked to class by myself. I ate lunch by myself. I didn’t have any friends. It got real bad.”

Turning this Catastrophe Around

“HIV has had a positive role in my life,” Marvelyn admits now. “It has taught me self acceptance and responsibility.” Marvelyn makes an effort to live her life to the fullest and to not let the disease get in the way of her happiness.

She now dedicates her life to educating youth about HIV/AIDS. Marvelyn is an HIV peer education specialist at Nashville CARES, where she is also a certified HIV testing counselor. She travels to colleges and high schools nationwide to address both adolescents and adults about her experience and to give advice on how to prevent contracting the disease. She’s made numerous appearances on TV and radio shows, and has become a very visible and outspoken AIDS activist.

How to Protect Yourself from HIV

The safest and most effective way to protect yourself from HIV/AIDS is to abstain from sex. Although, it may seem like everyone is having sex, there is nothing wrong with choosing to not have vaginal, oral or anal sex.

However, if you are going to have sex, you must use a new latex condom each and every time! Condoms are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs between partners. Play the Condom Game and find out how to use condoms correctly and consistently.

Communicating with your partner is also essential. Ask your partner about his or her HIV status before you have sex. Keep in mind that your partner may be unaware of his or her status or may not tell you the truth. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you or your partner is infected with HIV or other STDs. Find a testing center in your area.

“Sex is a responsible [decision],” Marvelyn says. It’s “not something to do because your friends are doing it.” There are many risks involved. Remember to communicate with your partner, get tested and always use condoms.

“The choice is yours,” Marvelyn concludes.

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