National HIV Testing Day (June 27) may have come and gone, but every day is an important day to put your sexual health first, especially for single women actively dating and being intimate with different partners. When it comes to straight talk about sex and the modern woman, no ones keeps it more real than Dr. Rachael Ross. Put simply, she’s the go-to guru when it’s time to weigh the harsh realities of the HIV epidemic in our community against the needs of Black women today. When we asked the popular TV expert (The Doctors) how single women can practice the safest sex possible while they play the field, Ross set the record straight.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the number one HIV statistic Black women should be paying attention to right now?
DR. RACHAEL ROSS: Where HIV is concentrated. Number one is Miami; number two Baton Rouge; number three is Jacksonville, Florida. Then it’s New York City and Washington, D.C., so when you really think about it, a lot of these cities are clustered around historically Black colleges and universities. These cities are where we go on vacation. We like to think that what happens on vacations stays on vacation, but not necessarily. That’s one of the topics that we don’t really talk about: Where is HIV clustered? It’s really all around you. I hope that we can get to the point where we start to think about it like that – where we can assume someone does have HIV until proven otherwise, instead of assuming that they don’t. If you do that then you’re practicing safe sex.
ESSENCE.com: What should single women who are active do to practice the safest sex possible?
ROSS: Every Black woman that I’ve talked to has asked me, “How do you bring up that conversation with someone?” I think we need to approach relationships a little differently. Before you determine what you can get from a relationship, you have to determine if a person is worth your time to even deal with all of that. If we would spend more time in the sexual interview process, it might not even get to the point where you have sex with a person. Keep in mind that you don’t have to sleep with everyone who takes you out to dinner. In the beginning, you’re interviewing this person to see if they’re worthy of being in your life. Plus, it’s now easier than ever before to learn your status right in your own home with oral-swab test OraQuick.
ESSENCE.com: What are some conversation starters?
DR. ROSS: Little questions that are fun and that men love answering can actually tell you a lot about who they are. “When was the last time you hooked up with someone and never spoken to them again?” When you start to ask questions like that you get real answers. They think you’re really trying to get to know their sexual appetite. When you’re dialoguing and interviewing somebody, you get them caught up in the moment, and before you know it, they’re really giving you the full version of who they are – not the edited text message version of it.
ESSENCE.com: What do you feel is the number one reason that many women are still not getting regular HIV testing?
DR. ROSS: I think they feel like it’s not going to happen to them. It’s the same reason they delay their mammograms or miss a pap smear day. We just kind of feel like, it’s not gonna happen. When you look at statistics, I think that when people think about HIV, they don’t think about themselves. Even though you may have gone on vacation two months ago and met somebody, it doesn’t even cross your mind that you fall under the category of “risky sexual behavior.” We live our lives a little bit in denial, and then on top of that, we as a culture struggle a little bit with delaying gratification and planning for the future. We do it with food, money, and our sex lives. So our problem with not getting tested for HIV is really more a part of our bigger, global problem.
ESSENCE.com: How does a single woman balance wanting to wait on sex and her personal desires to want her relationship to move forward!
DR. ROSS: I think you have to compartmentalize. You have to compartmentalize people and you have to compartmentalize relationships. There is nothing wrong with meeting someone tomorrow and having sex with them, but you have to realize what goes along with that. (1) You don’t know that person’s HIV status. (2) You really need to make sure you practice safer sex with them. And (3) you probably have to deal with the fact that 8 times out of 10 this isn’t going to develop into a real relationship. Be honest with yourself about where you want to stand on that.
ESSENCE.com: Any more real talk for the ladies?
DR. ROSS: We tend to look at other people in terms of us. “He’s perfect for me” or “He doesn’t have any kids” instead of looking at the person in context. Well, he doesn’t have any kids because he doesn’t want any, and he’s almost 40 and hasn’t been married because he’s played it cool his whole life. We need to be a little less self-centered when dating and not rushing things. Just because someone has sex with you that doesn’t mean that you guys are monogamous. If that’s what you’re expecting, maybe you need to have that dialogue before you guys have sex. Sometimes we take unrealistic expectations about what we want a relationship to be and form them in our heads, and thrust them onto other people, not recognizing that every man you meet has had other relationships with other women and might even still be in some of them. You’re never going to make someone else’s person your person and if someone is already in love with another person, there’s no way they’re going to fall in love with you.