The Low Down On The “Down Low”

This is a subject or phenomenon, if you like, that arouses my interest because of the underlying effects it has on women and children. Men on the “down-low” are males who don’t want society to know about their sexual relations with men. They date women to cover themselves, or are heterosexual males who prefer women but occasionally have sex with men. Studies show that they are largely contributing to the rise of HIV infection among Black women. A particular study by the Centers for Disease Control found that men on the down-low often don’t tell their female partners about their bisexual behavior nor do they use condoms with their female or male partners. By January 2001, the CDC was making connections between black men who have sex with men (MSMs) who do not identify as gay and increasing HIV infection rates among women of color. By not identifying as gay or bisexual these men may not accept their own risk for HIV, and therefore, may unintentionally put their female partners and children (unborn) at risk. In 2001, almost two-thirds of women in the United States who found out they had AIDS were black. Simply exposing a man on the “down low” will not stop the potential spread of HIV or any other sexually transmitted diseases within the black community. All partners in a sexual relationship should use protection, regardless of their gender or sexuality. Partners are also encouraged to ask about each other’s sexual history. The situation is creating havoc for those trying to battle HIV within the black community, as HIV is increasingly affecting black women and many bisexual men consider themselves heterosexual–and thus ignore safe-sex warnings targeting bisexual or homosexual men. The black gays have inundated the black race; that is why there has been absolutely no progress against AIDS amongst our people. As a people we need to stop hiding behind the cloak of fear and shame and address issues such as AIDS. Today, while there are black men who are openly gay, it seems that the majority of those having sex with men still lead secret lives, products of a black culture that deems masculinity and fatherhood as a black man’s primary responsibility — and homosexuality as a perversion. Blacks make up only 12 percent of the population in America, but they account for half of all new reported HIV infections. While intravenous drug use is a large part of the problem, experts say that the leading cause of HIV in black men is homosexual sex (some of which takes place in prison where there is a significant number of black men).According to the Center for Disease Control, one-third of young urban black men who have sex with men in this country are HIV positive, and 90% of those are unaware of their infection. We don’t hear much about this aspect of the epidemic, mostly because the two communities most directly affected by it — the black and the gay communities — have spent the better part of two decades eyeing each other through a haze of denial or studied disinterest. For black people, facing and addressing the black AIDS crisis would require talking honestly and compassionately about homosexuality and that has proved remarkably difficult, whether it be in black churches, in black organizations or on inner-city playgrounds.

You have to agree with me that these figures are really very alarming but maybe what should instill fear in our hearts is the attitude of these men towards their sexual lives. They do not use protection during the sexual act with other men. Unbelievable! These are men who are aware of the far reaching effects of HIV/AIDS on the human race and yet ignore the warnings. This is not a question of condemning anyone’s sexual orientation but of asking everyone concerned to carefully examine and understand the resultant effects of this behavior. And when I say “resultant effects”, I am not talking about the obvious which would be contracting HIV/AIDS and eventually suffering and dying from its complications. No, I am talking about the emotional, psychological and physical trauma that the loved ones left behind go through and that will most likely scar them for the remainder of their lives. Think about it for a moment, when a mother contracts HIV/AIDS from her partner and is dying slowly, her child cannot understand what is going on and is left in the dark. When his mother eventually dies, how do you tell him that his mother died because of the carelessness or nonchalance of his father. You simply cannot. Instead you tell him that mummy is going to heaven because God loves her more. This senseless and avoidable death had nothing to do with God and everything to do with man. If only her partner had thought of the aftermath of his careless decision this could have been prevented. Think of what that child went through watching his mother suffer and die: it is something that never leaves the mind no matter how much happiness you find later in life.

The emotional trauma might and could lead to dysfunctional behavior in that child in future because he is left motherless at a point in his life when he really needs one. And think of what happens to him when he loses his father shortly to the same disease that claimed his mother. It is almost too much to bear to think of a young child going through that kind of pain. It goes vice versa also; if a woman contracts HIV/AIDS from her partner and gets pregnant and gives birth to a child that she has passed the virus to. She will eventually lose that child through no fault of hers but due to a selfish decision made by her partner. It is a widely accepted assumption, especially among black cultures, that children should bury their parents but this mother will bury her child. A mother never gets over her child’s death, a child that she carried for nine months and whom she has come to love with all of her heart and if she could, would willingly give her life in place of his. She cannot and she hopelessly watches him slip away from her life. So many conditions can arise from this kind of traumatizing pain; severe depression being one of them. And with that a whole slew of problems arise like suicidal behavior, murderous thoughts and so many others that I cannot even begin to address here. Because of this loss of interest in life otherwise happy marriages are broken, jobs are lost, bitterness and anger mar everyday living and the quality of life gradually lessens. Why should this be happening when it can be prevented by something as common and cheap as latex? Black men and women, no less, must learn to develop and exercise discipline and responsibility towards their sexual lives no matter their preferences because it affects not just them but everyone else connected to them. This is an appeal to all the men on the down low: use a condom, if not for yourselves then for the innocent people in your lives and save them from the pain, suffering and heartache that your lack of care can unleash on them. The next time you want to have a little sexual pleasure without a condom please think of the face of your child or children (born or unborn) and reach for it. The choice is yours but consider this; Is any life worth ten minutes of transient pleasure?

Written by
Somi Obozuwa
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  • Good going! Much needed educative piece especially in a society where being on the down low also has multiple sexual partners in polygamy to help spread disease faster. Not a bad idea if the statistics for AIDS is posted on public transportation like it is in Washington DC. People won’t stop having sex but hopefully more information, education and prevention strategies can keep more people healthy. Wish someone would do a piece on sexual myths among Nigerians. Sexual health is terribly important!

  • Good Job Somi

    This is a very informative as well as educative article. This “Down Low” lifestyle doesn’t just happen here in America. It is also practised in Africa in Nigeria mostly in the north. Africa being a very conservative society, sex is still being considered a very “Taboo” topic that is rarely discussed. If we can’t even begin to talk about Sex, then talking about sexuality is even far reached and as a result we will continue to die in ignorance. We have to acknowledge that certain people live alternative lifestyles and mens’ attitude towards sex back in Africa has to change.

    As the saying goes “Knowledge is power”

    Thanks for highlighting a topic that is rarely spoken about in our community.

    Good Job.