I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Poll Results: BEFORE reading this blog... how did you view unprotected oral sex and HIV Transmission?

A total of 115 voters responded to the question: BEFORE reading this blog... how did you view unprotected oral sex and HIV Transmission?

10 (18%): Oral sex is a high risk activity and I was always safe with it.
15 (13%): Oral sex is low risk activity, but I still took it seriously and was safe with it.
81 (70%): Oral sex is low risk activity, but I didn't take it seriously and was not always safe with it.
9 (7%): Oral sex is a no risk activity.
Although this is a small sample, I think it does clearly show that there were/are disconnects between what we "know" about oral sex and its risks, and how we choose to act and use that information. 70% of voters responded as I would have. We know there is a risk associated with oral risk, and that it is a "low risk". Yet, for some reason, we choose to not take it seriously and practice it safely. 
Now, I ask why? Is it that condoms/dental dams taste bad? Is it that we perceive the risk to be so low that we start to think of it as a safe activity? Is it that we are more concerned with simply preventing pregnancy, and the risk of STDs slips our minds? Other thoughts/explanations?


  1. Low RISK , high RISK. When educators teach us about STD's and they say there is a low RISK or high RISK. This means just that There is a RISK. No matter what STD they are teaching us on.

  2. You seem to be a intelligent young lady. You have all your graphs, charts, percents. Seems to me that there is more behind this than you are telling. Also How can this be workers comp? Is you choosing to have sex with someone there personal pleasure at YOUR OWN "RISK", This is classified as "work"? Really now? I would think that Peace Corp would look in to this matter and rethink on "Why they should have to pay for your PERSONAL needs and compare it to their work policies".

    1. Yes, I am a very intelligent young lady. I am also a very honest young lady. So, if you are trying to imply that there is something missing from what I am telling you, then you are highly mistaken. My story has been the same from day one to today (6 months later).
      As to worker's compensation, I do not make the policies. All I can do is tell you what they are... To cover any condition or injury that a volunteer develops during their service overseas (with the exception of things due to willful misconduct or intoxication).
      P.S. Intelligent people get HIV too ;-)

    2. There is a huge gray area between when work stops and pleasure begins in the peace corps. In fact, the whole thing is a gray area. I support the policy. You are a volunteer for 27 months, not a whole lot of time off. They take care of you if anything happens, that's the deal. We all make mistakes, all we can do is learn from them. Keep Living positive, good job.

  3. "To cover any condition or injury that a volunteer develops during their service overseas (with the exception of things due to willful misconduct or intoxication). "

    Give your statement, then you shouldn't be covered, after all your case is one given due to willful misconduct. You chose not to use a condom, even though you knew there was a risk. If that is not willful misconduct, then I don't know what is.

  4. Anonymous-

    It seems you don't know what willful misconduct is. Willful misconduct is "knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule or policy"; "conscious or intentional disregard of the rights or the safety of others".

    Volunteers are adults who have the right to engage in consensual sex. There is no rule or policy enforced by Peace Corps that volunteers must practice safe sex and no consequence if they seek medical treatment for a medical problem resulting from unsafe sex.

    Can we move on now from harassing her, and take away the important lesson here? LivingPositive made a mistake that 70% of the readers on this blog would have made. 70%! Current risk perception about HIV transmission via oral sex is not most motivating people (at least among this blog's readership) to protect themselves properly.

    If you would like the Office of Worker's Compensation to change its policies to deny compensation to volunteers under these circumstances, I think it would be most productive that you take it up with them (as it is them, not Peace Corps, that decides claims).

    -A fellow PCV in Guatemala

  5. Anonymous -

    It's people that hide behind anonymity to promote shame and stigmatization that keep important issues surrounding HIV from being shared. Everyone makes mistakes, smart people, not so smart people, EVERYONE.

    Unfortunately HIV doesn't choose you based on how smart you are. Stop shaming someone for being open and educating the world on a crucial issue.

    Also, you may not like our government's healthcare policies but the only way to change policies is to step out from behind your anonymity and take it up with the Office of Worker's Compensation. Good luck with that.

    1. First of all, nowhere in my comment did I say that she should be ashamed of herself, so don't put words in my mouth. Second of all, I'm all for her sharing her experience, and graphs, and wealth of information regarding this illness. That being said, I'm sick and tired of her trying to make it seem that because she didn't think there was a risk, that Peace Corps. should bare the burden of her illness.

      She knew there was a risk, she chose to ignore it and engaged in a sexual act without protection. The IS willful misconduct. She was not on the clock as far as working goes, because she was definitely NOT doing anything relating to her Peace Corps. work while she was off with this pathetic excuse of a guy. So there really should be no workers compensation involved here, and I can guarantee you that if PC wanted to take a closer look as to whether they should insure her or not, they would cut her off completely. That being said, if she's getting help to pay for her meds, then good for her, but I can't say that I agree with it. After all, who do think is ultimately footing the bill for her?

      Also, I volunteer at a high school, and work at a homeless shelter, where we talk about how to prevent STDs, and how to live with the stigma of having been diagnosed with any kind of illness. I have been doing this for years, hence why her blog caught my attention. I have come across plenty of individuals that like to play the blame game. Now I know she is not blaming anyone, yet in a sense, her constant statements about "Low risk to me became no risk" are ridiculous. A risk is a risk, regardless of whether it's 99% or 0.5%, or whatever. When you're working in a country where the HIV epidemic is so high, then one should think with their brains (and not with other parts of their bodies) and realize that one needs to protect themselves.

      Now I know my comments are harsh, but guess what, this is real life. If you think I'm being harsh, then you really haven't seen the crap people will throw at you. I counsel 3 kids who are HIV positive and are in high school, the crap those kids go through is ridiculous! AND, they got their HIV through their mothers being infected when they conceived, so they really bare no responsibility. So she better get a thick skin on her, because she will have to deal with this for her entire life. Something she COULD have avoid, had she thought about the consequences of her actions. As for the anonymity, because of my work, I cannot just go around publishing my name online, so now it's not because I'm trying to promote whatever crap you said above.

    2. PCV from BotswanaMarch 2, 2012 at 2:28 AM

      Dear Anonymous,

      I would like to respond to one of your points:

      "When you're working in a country where the HIV epidemic is so high, then one should think with their brains (and not with other parts of their bodies) and realize that one needs to protect themselves."

      Ideally, that would happen. Ideally, we would always be safe when engaging in sexual activity. We would use gloves, male condoms, female condoms, dental dams, etc. But behavior change is really difficult. And just knowing that the risk is higher does not necessarily translate into safer behaviors. Locals in some of these countries use way less protection than Jessica did and most of them (at least in the country I serve in, Botswana) know how HIV is transmitted.

      So, why, you may ask, would they not logically protect themselves? Because we are human beings. Because human beings make mistakes. But the biggest reason, I have come to conclude, is that they don't think it will really happen to them. Or they think they are being cautious enough.

      Obviously that is not an assumption that should be made, but many of us who have been sexually active have taken risks to some extent. Jessica has never said that Peace Corps should be blamed. She takes responsibility for her actions. Yet, she is using her experience to try to give volunteers (and host country nationals) better information in order to make good decisions about protection.

      It is true that this is real life. And it is unfortunately true that Jessica may face discrimination. However, as someone who works with HIV-positive individuals, I hope you know how important love and compassion is. And I thought, after the 1980s, we learned to view all HIV-positive people in the same way. I thought we had stopped insinuating that some were somehow better human beings or more moral because they contracted the virus through non-sexual means.

      Jessica's journey is different than the children you work with. But hers is no less painful or difficult to talk about. And berating her anonymously on the internet does not help make her feel more comfortable in continuing to tell her story. I am sure that she has already thought about all of these things.

      Yet, my real point is that love is so important. Loving each other is all that we can do in this life. It doesn't mean that constructive criticism isn't important. It is very useful when done in an appropriate way.

      Thank you.

      PCV, Botswana