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Ask & Tell

Ask & Tell


As HIV rates soar among African-American men, particularly young ones, who have HIV prevalence levels dwarfing even those of some of the hardest-hit African nations, experts find themselves scratching their heads about how to reach this population with information on how not to get-or not to pass on-the virus. But 55-year-old Robert-Lee Thomas, an activist and outreach worker for the past 15 years in Brooklyn, N.Y., who's made it his mission to educate AIDS service providers, says it's not the messages that are the problem. Why do you believe more African-American men aren't practicing safer sex? They refuse to take or use free condoms provided by AIDS organizations because-and I've been told this countless times-they don't fit. They're too small. And it's very expensive to buy larger condoms, like Magnums. Aren't most condoms designed to be one-size-fits-all? My experiences as an African-American gay man are that black men tend to be very well endowed. That's not meant to be prejudiced toward other men; it's just what I have personally observed-and what the men I talk with have observed. When you're well-endowed, standard condoms are too tight and hurt while you have sex, so these men don't use them. Why aren't AIDS groups distributing larger-size condoms? A few do offer them, but they have very small supplies. Bigger condoms are more expensive to buy in bulk than standard-size condoms. But the way I look at it, should you spend a few more pennies now or spend tens of thousands of dollars on health care later when someone gets infected? What makes more sense? What's been your primary role in raising awareness on the issue? I've approached AIDS organizations here in New York many times during the past eight years as well as with the New York City HIV Prevention Planning Group and the state department of health. I'm going to keep getting in their faces. But we also have to get everyone more comfortable talking about penis size when it comes to black men. Right now, AIDS groups are too afraid of offending a particular group or of reinforcing racial stereotypes, but they need to get over that. Black men are getting infected and we can help prevent that. What's more uncomfortable-talking about the size of someone's dick or being silent while someone gets infected?

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