​Love yourself; protect yourself

Practicing safer sex reduces the likelihood of transmitting or receiving the HIV virus through sexual transmission. Photo by Funny or Die.

by Mary Turner
HIV/AIDS Health Columnist

Valentine’s Day is our holiday celebrating love and relationships, and there is no more important love relationship than the one we have with ourselves. I’m not talking about the shallow, narcissistic self-love that deludes us into believing that we are better than everyone else. I’m talking about the love that lets us look in the mirror each day and recognize that we have value in spite of our human flaws.

We like to do good things for the people we love. If I asked you to prepare a meal and take it to someone you absolutely despise, you might be kind enough to only laugh at me or ignore me. Chances are you’d fill my ears with some choice words about how that so-and-so doesn’t deserve anything.

What you may not realize is that we treat ourselves by those same standards. Too many of us have grown up in homes and communities where we’ve been taught that we don’t deserve anything. We learn to dislike ourselves because we don’t conform to what others think we ought to be.

As grownups, we may do things that hurt ourselves, but since we don’t feel we’re worth anything, we continue the cycle of pain and harsh consequences. If you see yourself trapped in the idea of worthlessness, I urge you to work on looking in the mirror and loving who you see.

If you are HIV+ or are part of a group at greater risk of infection, please love yourself enough to seek appropriate treatment or alter your behaviors so that they are more protective of you. Practicing safer sex reduces the likelihood of transmitting or receiving the HIV virus through sexual transmission.

Avoid the risk of transmitting the virus through the use of shared needles or other sharp objects that may have been exposed to infected blood and body fluids (razors, tooth brushes, etc.).

Oral/vaginal and oral/penal sex has a lower risk of transmitting the virus than penal/vaginal or penal/anal, but they are not without risk. Insist on using barrier protection so that you and your partner can focus on pleasure and not on the risk of infection.

If you have sex with multiple partners, get tested for HIV every three or four months so that you know your status and can take steps to protect your health. If you are celibate or in a committed relationship, have a wellness exam once a year to make sure there are no other medical issues that can impair your health.

Since we learn our worthiness at an early age, be the trustworthy adult that a child or adolescent can confide in if they are struggling with their identity and trying to fit into a culture that rejects them. Help them understand that the gift of love is the best thing they can give themselves. After all, if we don’t believe we’re good enough to love, why would we expect someone else to?

Happy Valentine’s Day! Share the love, not the virus.

The Gayly- 2/13/2016 @ 11:33 PM CST