black women

Is the Black Community in Denial about STDs?

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Studies released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state that African Americans are leading the nation in a variety of types of STD infection.   Most of your friends don’t announce to you  when they are HIV positive.  Also, millions of Americans have never been tested for Herpes, Syphilis, or many of the other STDs out there.  Even worse, casual sex has become a sport for some people, who think that they can live life without consequences. 

The interview below is a transcription of the conversation between Dr. Boyce Watkins and Nomalanga Mhlauli-Moses from Your Black World.  It sheds light and thoughts on why African Americans might be afraid to talk about sex and STDs.


Dr. Watkins:               Hi, I’m Dr. Boyce Watkins from and recently, we put up an article about the growth rate of herpes infections in the black community. The Center for Disease Control claims that 48% of African American women have herpes, according to their sample. Now, one of the things that I noticed was that there was a lot of resistance to this information. There were a lot of people of said, “I’m tired of hearing you say bad things about black women” and “these CDC people, they’re not accurate, you know, their data are wrong.” Someone even, came to tell me, tried to tell me that the CDC refuted the study.  I did research on it and they had not. So, I thought that maybe there was an issue there in terms of our comfort in talking about sexuality, what these results mean. So, to talk about this issue, I want to bring in one of our editors and contributors, Nomalanga Mhlauli-Moses, who runs the blog  She’s an advocate for young women of color; women of color of all ages in my opinion, and she also happens to be the reigning Mrs. Botswana and third place in the Mrs. Earth competition. How are you today Nomalanga?


Nomalanga:                I’m doing great Boyce. How are you?


Dr. Watkins:               I’m doing really well, really well. Now, I have to ask you, you know, I really felt bad as a father of daughters and as a man who, you know, has a lot of respect for black women. I felt very bad about the fact that there were some black women, who felt that, by us reciting what the CDC said, we were somehow attacking black women or saying that they are promiscuous or something, and that just wasn’t the case. Why did they give us such an angry reaction to our simply releasing this information that was verified to statistical information?


Nomalanga:                Well, first of all let me address the reaction, Boyce, you and I can agree that honestly it can be said that black women are attacked a lot. To the point where sometimes when we’re given valuable information, we can still perceive that valuable information as “oh my goodness here comes another attack.” You know, being that I deal with African American women, black women from all around the world, and generally women of color. That’s something I come across a lot. They sometimes respond as being attacked and honestly, sadly, it’s because, one of the first of the groups to have their rights infringed a upon lot is women, and another group that have had their rights infringe upon a lot are black people and us black women.  Lucky us, we’re both women and were black.

So, we do, you know, bear a lot of, you know, attacks and criticisms and so forth. So, I do want to address and I don’t necessarily want to validate that we should always be reacting badly to people saying things about us, but I do want, not just you, but anybody, to understand that sometimes the reaction is because it happens so much. That being said, statistics are statistics, you can run away from the truth and we can’t bury our heads in the sand and we do have to listen to the information. So, that’s where I stand with it. I, obviously, when I received the information I thought it was shocking. I did know that the statistics where high. I didn’t think they were that high.


Dr. Watkins:               Well, you know, my belief and this is me speaking to women in a way that is not judgemental. I’m simply saying, “Look, I’m a scholar, my goal is to inform you and to share information with you because I do care.” I wrote a pretty piercing article that linked to that study and I basically said that there’s a denial issue in the black community when it comes to sexuality and STD’s and it’s costing us.

For some of us it’s costing us our lives and, you know, I’m getting beat up left and right. I’m used to it, I can take the punches, no big deal.  But I did get a message from a woman who begged me to give her a call and most of the time when people do that I just don’t have time.  But it was a Friday night and I was bored so I said, “Ok sure I’ll give you a call, we can talk for a few minutes.” She said, “I really need to talk to you because your article changed my life.” And so I said, “Oh, ok, let’s hear the story.”

What the woman told me was that she was sleeping with a man and they had sex, unprotected sex.  Then she asked the man, she said, “Can we go get tested for STD’s together?”

When she asked him, “Have you been tested?” and all that. He said, “Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” Etc. and she said as soon as she asked the man to go with her to the clinic he stopped calling her. He stopped speaking to her. He wasn’t returning her calls. He didn’t want to do anything with her because she had chosen to empower herself by asking him to do something that most women don’t ask him to do.  So I talked to the woman for a while, I think she was beating up on herself about it because she was like a lot of black women, very devout.  She also said that she’d been a virgin up until this point.

Unbelievably, I think she was in her 30’s, that’s another issue. But you know, I know that, I told her “don’t beat up on yourself.” This is the point I was getting at. The STD spread, it’s not saying that black women are promiscuous. What you’re saying is that sometimes you can be a person who is not promiscuous but still catch STDs by having sex with a promiscuous person.  So, what happens, unfortunately, is you have to go back and kinda look at men and really re-evaluate this culture. I think it’s spurred on by hip-hop music where every song, nearly every single song you hear on the radio is a man bragging about how many women he’s sleeping with. So, as a result, you see another study that basically says that black men have far more sex partners than white guys do throughout the course of the lifetime. We have four times more sex partners in our lifetime then black women do.

So, unfortunately, if you have say for example, the good girl who likes the bad boy, well, guess what?  Unfortunately, you may catch whatever infection the bad boy got while he was out being bad. The other really interesting about this is that I think you also have to put this thing back on the women and say, “Are you being as careful about your health as you should be? Are you asking the right questions?” I think a lot of men get away with what they do because women don’t really question what they’re doing. The other interesting thing, and I’ll say this and I’m going to finish so you’ll get the last word, is that, and this is what is important too: When people were saying, “Oh the CDC data is wrong, you’re just hating on black women.” etc. I say, “Look, before you say all that, ask yourself ‘have you been tested, not just for HIV, but have you been tested for every STD?’” Everybody talks about their HIV test but nobody talks about getting tested for herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and all these other things that you can catch.

The CDC also said, they said, “80% of the people who have herpes don’t even know that they have it.” So, you could be sitting here saying, “Oh the data is not true and that’s just a lie,” and you don’t even know if you’ve got it or not. You don’t know if your partner has it or not.  You can compound that with the fact, and I have to keep it real here, a lot of black men don’t like to go to the doctor. You know, there are a lot of guys I know who’ve slept with a lot of women and haven’t been to the doctor since they were a newborn baby.

So, you end up with situations like the one in Philadelphia, where a scientist went into a barbershop and tested 20 men for chlamydia.  In that study, 11 of the 20 men had chlamydia and did not know that they had it because they’d never been tested for it. So, we’re in the middle of an epidemic here. It is going to affect men and women. When I cite this information, we put that out there, were not attacking black women and were not really attacking black men. We’re just saying, “We need to start talking about the truth.” What say you Nomalanga?


Nomalanga:                And I agree with you, I think sometimes, I obviously know you and I’ve been exposed to a lot of your, things that you write and the videos that you put out. I do have the feeling that you write out of concern and the things that you say you share because you want to change people’s lives for the better.

I do have to say though, for me, because I speak to a lot of women, in fact I have, as you know, a course designed specifically for women. I did have to search myself and find a way of relaying the information in a way that they can accept it and that’s with a solution based approach and it’s been somewhat more successful than just saying, you know, “Here’s what’s going on.” and “Wow! We should all be scared.” Or “We should all go out and get tested.” Cause what it does is just scare people and some people are too skeptical to get tested.

But taking the conversation to the next level of once you get tested is important. This is what you can do, this is how you can protect yourself because there is only really one way to be safe and that is to be 100% celibate and that’s not necessarily realistic. So, you have to assume that everybody has to get tested and has to do it at least every 6-months and that’s what I say to the women I speak to them.

And then the other thing is, this is just my personal opinion, I think that sex shouldn’t be a hobby. It should be something that should be taken seriously and it should be something that should only be engaged with somebody that you care about and that cares about you and if a person cares about you and you care about them, then you want them tested and yourself tested to make sure that their being safe and that you’re being safe. So, just those two things: get tested regularly and don’t make a sport out of exchanging body fluids with people. Protect yourself in that activity with people that you actually have some level of care about. If that were the case then you do want to get tested and you do want the other person to be tested too. Do you understand what I mean? Because then you want to protect them from whatever you have or might have caught along the way and you want them not to give you something.  If they care about you they care about that.


Dr. Watkins:               I agree. I don’t think we’re here to judge how people conduct their sex lives, but if sex is a hobby or sport it’s a very dangerous, very expensive hobby or sport. I think we have to get away from this notion that leads us to believe that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want as long as you wear a condom. Lets be real, when people, and I even made reference to oral sex; a lot of people don’t protect themselves when they do that and that’s one way herpes can be transmitted orally to a person’s genitalia. I felt really weird talking about this Noma. I felt this awkward bringing it up as I do bringing that up to a married woman. But you know, the fact is that, I think, when we have these conversations about our health, we have to start being honest.  When I talk to my daughters about it, those are some crinkly uncomfortable conversations, but I force myself through them because I’m saying to myself that they need to hear the truth and hear it from a man’s perspective and an adults perspective so they don’t make critical mistakes later on.  I think that’s what we all need do, including the church and all the other places where we get together. So, thank you for your insights Noma. I really appreciate it.


Nomalanga:                Thank you


Dr. Watkins:               Absolutely, and thank you all for checking us out at Thank you for tolerating us and tolerating me especially. Noma’s good, she has the woman’s touch.  She’s brilliant and smooth and everything else. Me, sometimes, I can push the issue a little bit. A little bit too rough, but you know, it’s all well intended, I assure you and I do it because I do care. So, everybody this is Nomalanga Mhlauli-Moses she is an editor and contributor at She is also the reigning Mrs. Botswana and she got third place in the Mrs. Earth competition.  She also runs the website So, until we meet again please stay strong be blessed and be educated. We are gone. Peace.