By Grissel Granados
In my opinion, the greatest needs of young women living with HIV include, but are not limited to, adequate medical services that are responsive to our sexual and reproductive health needs.
As a young woman living with HIV, I had a terrible experience related to my sexual and reproductive health. Once, I was denied a birth control refill and was told that I would be okay without it since I should be using condoms with my partner anyway. I stormed out of that clinic and was out of care and medications for several months because I refused to go back to that place that insulted me.
Young women must be able to access HIV care with providers that are able to treat women holistically, instead of just looking at viral loads and CD4 counts. The full sexual lives of young women must be acknowledge by providers. Doctors need to ask about young women’s sexual practices without making assumptions. Case managers and therapists must support young women in being able to explore their sexuality in a healthy way, since many young women live in fear of their own sexual selves. I have met young women born with HIV who have grown up in such fear of themselves as sexual beings that they cannot even fathom dating, much less having healthy children someday.
The other big need for young women is to have space. Granted, the numbers of young women living with HIV are small; however, space must still be created to build relationships with other young women living with HIV. It is not acceptable to have absolutely zero resources for young women when it comes to social-emotional support. Young women feel stigma as it is already by living with HIV; it is not OK to isolate them further by not providing spaces that are supportive of their unique needs and experiences.
Grissel Granados is the coordinator of the Los Angeles Integrated Center for Care and Supportive Services at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She has spoken, presented, and advised on youth and the HIV response, as well as sexuality and sex positivity in youth work, locally and internationally. Granados was recently appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She was born with HIV in Mexico City.