Academic journal article Communication Studies

"If I Knew Then What I Know Now": Seropositive Individuals' Perceptions of Partner Trust, Safety and Risk Prior to HIV Infection

Academic journal article Communication Studies

"If I Knew Then What I Know Now": Seropositive Individuals' Perceptions of Partner Trust, Safety and Risk Prior to HIV Infection

Article excerpt

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus responsible for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), was isolated and identified in 1981 (Gallo et al., 1984). Since the official identification of this virus, the number of reported cases of HIV and AIDS have grown rapidly in the United States and other countries (Ahituv, Hotz & Philipson, 1996). Subsequently, AIDS is now recognized as one of the most serious infectious disease epidemics of modern time. Despite the rapid rise in infection, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (2000) released a warning that people are continuing to engage in behaviors that put them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases. Because no current HIV vaccine or cure for AIDS exists, individuals must rely on personal factors to ensure safer sexual behaviors. Specifically, practicing safer sex involves a complicated process of believing in one's ability to engage in safer sex, as well as the interpersonal communication skills necessary to negotiate safer sex with a partner (Lear, 1995). Further, this willingness to engage in safer sexual communication may be the most important predictor of an individual's actual use (Adelman, 1991; Cantania, Coates, Stall, & Turner, 1992; Edgar, Hammond, & Freimuth, 1989; Lear, 1995; Oakley & Bogue, 1995).

According to the CDC (2001), as the millennium came to a close 21.8 million people had died from AIDS since the epidemic began, and 36.1 million people are estimated to be living with HIV / AIDS. Once perceived as a gay male disease, the demographics of the HIV / AIDS epidemic have changed. Fifty percent of new HIV infections occur in people under 25. In 1999, 1,813 young people (ages 13 to 24) were reported as living with AIDS, bringing the cumulative1 total to 29,629 cases of AIDS in this age group (CDC, 2001). In the United States, HIV-related death has the greatest impact on young and middle-aged adults, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities. In 1998, HIV was the fifth leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 (www.cdc.gov/hiv/pubs/facts/youth.htm). It has been estimated that at least half of all new HIV infections in the United States are among people under 25, and the majority of young people are infected sexually--47% of all AIDS cases reported were acquired heterosexually. Women now account for 30% of new HIV infections, and as of 1999 most women (40%) reported with AIDS were infected through heterosexual exposure (www.cdc.gov/hiv/pubs/facts/women.htm). Similarly, The 1997 WHO report indicated that 75% of HIV infections in adults throughout the world were transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, and heterosexual intercourse (vaginal and anal) accounted for more than 70% of the cases. Further, many of these documented HIV/AIDS cases were a result of a single episode of heterosexual intercourse (Raghubir & Menon, 1998).

It is apparent that HIV is spreading rapidly among children, teenagers, heterosexual adult males and females, and senior citizens. Specifically, the CDC reported that out of the 36.1 million worldwide people living with HIV/AIDS, 16.4 million are women, and 1.4 million are children under 15. In 2000, The United Joint Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (www.unaids.org) estimated that 920,000 adults and children in North America were living with HIV. Further, a recent press release revealed that 10% of the new HIV cases are individuals over the age of 50 (The National HIV/AIDS Conference Update, March 24, 1999). In short, the CDC stated that the overwhelming majority of people with HIV-approximately 95% of the global total now live in the developing world (www.cdc.gov/hiv/stats/internat).

Even though heterosexual HIV cases continue to increase, individuals' perceived invulnerability still exists. Heterosexuals' misperception of risk of HIV may create a false sense of security that can result in risky sexual behavior. Past research indicates a positive relationship between perceived risk of HIV and condom use (e. …

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