Spotlight on Women's Health
An Interview About HIV and AIDS Basics: Shan Boodram
March 01, 2017
Today, about 1 in 4 people living with HIV in the United States is female. At the Office on Women’s Health, we want to support these women and girls. We also want to help others learn how they can prevent infection and fight the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. That’s why we talked to National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day ambassador and sex educator Shan Boodram. She talks about getting tested, steps you can take to protect yourself, how to share your status with a new partner, and more.
Shan Boodram is a sexologist, author, and YouTuber known as the go-to voice for millennials.
Q: Will you tell us why you wanted to get involved with NWGHAAD?
A: Having met and worked with so many spectacular HIV-positive young women over my 10+ years as a sexual educator, I want to stand with and up for them. I also want their stories to be heard so everyone understands that HIV happens — not to a certain kind of person but to any person.
Q: As a sex educator, what's the first thing you tell women and girls about sex?
A: Having sex with someone will not make you more likable or interesting to them. Having unprotected sex with someone does not strengthen your bond with them. Too many people fall into this trap and learn the hard way. The only reason to share your body with someone is because you want to for YOU without any expectations from anyone else. Your protection is also your sole responsibility. People have a hard enough time taking care of themselves. Why assume they have you covered, too?
Q: What should women and girls know about HIV and AIDS?
A: I work with some HIV-positive individuals who admit they don't share their status all the time because their viral load is low, they always use condoms, they clean needles before sharing, and they are diligent with their medication. To them, this rationalization makes perfect sense. However, many fail to realize this is the exact same position that the person who infected them may have taken. It's not enough to blindly trust. Also, look up the stats of people with HIV in your area. It will likely surprise you.
Q: What steps can women and girls take to prevent HIV infection?
A: There are the obvious ones: Encourage testing with new partners, use condoms, and put your pleasure and your health long before others’ feelings. But also, I think we need to create a less hostile environment for people who are positive to share their experiences with and information on HIV. We can learn and love more by encouraging everyone to have a voice in this very important discussion — regardless of their status.
Q: Why do women and girls need to get tested for HIV?
A: Knowing your status is not only vital to your physical and emotional health, but it is also the single most important thing any individual can do toward ending HIV. Many people think it's better not to know, but that couldn't be any further from the truth. When it comes to HIV, the sooner you can get proper care and treatment, the better!
Q: What's your advice for those who may be hesitant to or don't know how to get an HIV test?
A: Go online and research. Ignorance is not an excuse in the age of information. You can get tested at pretty much any health care facility, and there are often mobile testing locations in cities across the country. I get tested frequently, and while it's not my favorite experience in the moment, I always feel so, so, so much better knowing my current status.
Q: For women who are positive, do you have advice for how they can share their status with new partners?
A: I think people who are positive need to give their new partners the same space and time they needed when they first discovered their own status. Don't expect someone to be all arms open and cool with it. They need to get over the shock, ask a lot of questions, possibly consult their doctor, and take time with it. I think it’s important to encourage this! Tell them, and then give them resources and information to discover more information for themselves.
Q: How can women and girls help reduce the stigma?
A: Knowledge is power. Today HIV is not a death sentence, but it is still a lifelong illness that is very dangerous and can be arduous. We can't go around saying "It’s no big deal," nor can we say "This is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you!" Both of these statements are false and dangerous. We need more facts and more personal accounts. Numbers and stats shape a story, but people are the only ones who can truly communicate it.
Q: If there's one thing women and girls should walk away from this interview knowing, what is it?
A: You can't play the ignorance/blind faith card anymore. This is your responsibility. Many of us are here to help, but the big choices are in your power alone.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
A: Join the NWGHAAD Thunderclap! It's going to be such a powerful moment in history. Be on the field, not in the stands.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.