Tests & Testimonies

How do we move past judgment so we can talk about HIV prevention?

by Tyeshia Alston

[dropcap]“Y[/dropcap]our test will become your testimony,” said Mr. Tyrese Gibson, as he stood on the grounds of Universal Studios, addressing his Facebook and YouTube followers to encourage them to not give up during their struggles. He encouraged his followers to pursue success because, with God, anything is possible.

We all have struggles, and some of those struggles have to do with sex. But, for those of us who are faithful, how can our tests become our testimonies if we are never allowed to talk about sex in a factual, non-judgmental way?

In many faith-based organizations, often “saints” are delusional on the subject of sex and have consciously decided to believe that church is a place where sex doesn’t exist. In reality, every member knows that sex does exist and many have grown to love the activity of sex. However, it’s a taboo conversation—most members feel like it’s a sin to talk about.

As a Texan, I’ve had the privilege to worship in several denominations and am currently worshipping at Everlasting Praise Baptist Church. This past Sunday, I announced that SAAVED, the HIV/AIDS non-profit that I founded, would be hosting a Wellness Workshop, and when I said the word “SEX” you could literally hear people taking in a deep breath and tensing up as if I had just committed a crime. My pastor, Bishop C.R. Davis, Jr. had to elaborate to the congregation to become more informed about HIV: “Let’s get real about the subject; you all are having ‘sex’ and if you are not going to restrain from the activity as you should then at least have the sense to protect your life as you allow God to work on your soul.”

In my observation, abstinence is found in all religious institutions, but, as an idea, it has been tainted by the reality that sex does exist outside of marriage and this is a subject that many believers do not want to face. For example, I was raised in a church where we, like many others, were taught “no sex before marriage.” However, when someone came up pregnant the woman had to apologize to the church and ask for their forgiveness for her mistake. I never thought this to be fair, especially when I was also taught that it takes two to tango. In my opinion, abstinence is the driving force of the stereotypes and judgment leading to condemnation from others within the organization, who find fault in you when you have fallen from grace by failing to remain celibate.

Thus, in your struggle to remain what the celebrant calls “pure,” you find yourself like the woman at the well; judged, confused, alone and with a past that others refuse to let go because they are hell-bent on keeping cultural traditions that, they claim, have caused you to leave a negative mark on society.

Abstinence-only as a prevention method is popular outside of these faith-based institutions as well. For example, while the state of Texas ranks third in the country for the highest HIV infections, our lawmakers have found it beneficial to defund HIV prevention funds and voted to divert $3 million dollars into “abstinence-only” programs.

Why would such an outrageous act take place in a region with a high rate of HIV infection? Not to mention that the Big State of Texas also ranks the fifth-highest in the country for teen pregnancy, with the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies.The amendment was offered by Representative Stuart Spitzer, a Republican out of Kaufman, Texas. According to Texas Observer, Representative Spitzer said, “My goal is for everybody to be abstinent until they’re married.” The article also goes on to state: “his goal, he said, was for everyone to know that ‘abstinence is the best way to prevent HIV.’”

I believe that Representative Stuart’s goals are like trying to pull an adult tooth out at home with strings instead of utilizing a professional dentist who is trained in using specific tools that are strictly designed for extractions. Yes, it is possible to pull a tooth out at home with string. However, it is painful and dangerous, with a high risk of the tooth breaking and getting infected. It’s destined to lead to more pain. This solution only allows the root of the problem to increase and spread throughout the mouth causing more problematic issues for the individual. In this case, the bad tooth is the abstinence-only program because Texans have clearly shown that the act of practicing abstinence does not work for them.
The problem that I find with Rep. Stuart’s goals are just like most denominations that desire and require a person to remain abstinent. However, this is a serious and likely-to-fail objective because once a person takes a bite of the forbidden fruit, and that fruit was emotionally and physically good to them, it is harder to resist any future sweet temptations.

The need for abstinence-only programs forty years ago may have seemed “just.” However, today, promoting abstinence is like playing dodge ball with a high possibility of getting hit because we live in a society where even young people are sexually active and are enjoying the pleasures of life that comes along with it. To be honest, in the heat of the moment, a person is less likely to say “No,” particularly when they have already previously indulged in the act with someone they are attracted to. Nevertheless, chances may rank higher for the two to agree to use a condom rather than counting on resisting and walking away from what they truly want.

Democratic Representative Sylvester Turner from Houston, Texas, responded to the amendment by stating, “My goal is for everyone to be HIV/AIDS free.” I agree, but all types of prevention and education need to be the starting point to adequately reach this goal.

In this column, we will discuss all types of topics including sex, faith, family, and government surrounded by the issues of HIV/AIDS. I invite you to write to me with your views, ask questions and give suggestions. The only requirement is that you respectfully be yourself. Ask your question(s) and/or tell your story and I will reply.


Tyeshia Alston is a native of Dallas, Texas, and an HIV/AIDS activist, who “will go anywhere where people will listen.” She has done everything from travel to D.C. to speak with legislators about better healthcare access and how the disease has impacted communities to serving on panels for NMAC and other organizations and bringing her message to talk shows. In 2005 at the age of twenty-five, Alston was diagnosed with HIV and she has been on a mission since 2006 to educate people (especially our youth) about HIV/AIDS. Visit www.saaved.org to learn more about her community-based work. Also, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to email Ms. Alston at [email protected].