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Love in the time of HIV

/ 05:24 AM February 16, 2018

Red was the color of the mountains of roses in Dangwa on Valentine’s Day, their velvety softness carpeting the streets.

Red is the color of wine quaffed by lovers on a cold and breezy February night. It is the color of bright lanterns in Buddhist temples on the eve of the new year. It is the color of burning incense lifting our prayers to the heavens.

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Red is the color of love, of celebration, and of prosperity. But red is also the color of a cause. Red is the color of HIV.

HIV has been around for far too long, with the earliest case detected in 1968 in the United States. But the length of time humanity has been facing and dealing with HIV does not mean we have become any more enlightened about it. There is still no completely effective vaccine available. Neither is there a cure. The stigma hasn’t even truly abated.

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More alarming is that as the virus grows older, those infected get younger. According to Healthline, in 1995 complications from AIDS was the leading cause of death for the 25-44 age group. Death rates had dropped since then. But in 2017, according to the Department of Health and as reported by Rappler, 11,550 of 42,283 HIV-positive persons are in the 15-24 age group. Per the same report, 62 percent of new infections are coming from that same group, too. Last year, the United Nations noted that the Philippines has the fastest infection rate in the Asia-Pacific, with the highest proportion of adolescents living with HIV.

The figures paint a dismal picture, but even more so when you see HIV infection happening to people close to you. Not too long ago, there was a report that where I live, the number infected by the virus had risen to 200 percent. I brushed it aside, neither validating nor questioning it. I was oblivious to the rising culture of casual sex around me and the alternate universe it had created, even among my closest friends. Until that instant message came. Until a parent found out. Until the eulogies poured in.

It’s unavoidable for many to attribute this sexually risky behavior to technology, which has actually impacted many of our other behaviors anyway. Is booking a hookup as easy as booking a carpool these days?

There was much buzz about studies which found that millennials are having less sex than previous generations. By this time last year, Ryne Sherman caused a stir when his research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior revealed that 15 percent of those in the 20-24 age group had never had penetrative sex, compared to just 6 percent of the previous generation. In 2013, the Japan Family Planning Association found that 45 percent of women and over 25 percent of men aged 16-24 were not interested in sex either. According to Donna Turner, the Japanese called it sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome.”

But despite the variances, the studies reveal that a vast majority are still sexually active, and it is this cohort to whom attention should be paid. Likewise, not all HIV-positive individuals are sexually charged. Some were infected on their first or second time to have sex. There are those who are very sexually active but are not infected. It isn’t the quantity of sex, but the quality of it; not the drive that propels sexual behavior but the education on prevention.

Love in the time of HIV is almost a vague notion, what with a fraction who are not thinking of commitment and a fraction who desperately wish they were in one. It is love not equated to sexual activity, and vice versa. It is love that refuses to be shaped by morality, but, rather, shapes morality itself.

“Life would still present them with other moral trials,” writes Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “But that no longer mattered.”

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Love in the time of HIV is still the same love. It is about choices—empowered, educated, and emancipated choices. It is about being aware, not being apart. It is also about responsibility. And should there be consequences, as they are inevitable, love in the time of HIV means building each other up in the times when the world is falling apart.

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TAGS: Dangwa, HIV, Red, Valentine’s Day
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