I met HIV advocate Kamaria Laffrey in 2012 when I worked as a sexual health educator for teens. Laffrey spoke at an event we both attended, where she talked about her life leading up to her HIV diagnosis.
I was very intrigued by her courage to reveal her HIV status along with the challenges she faced living with the virus — a story which many people living with HIV are scared to tell. This is Laffrey’s story on how she contracted HIV and how it changed her life.
A life-changing decision
While sexual attitudes have changed a lot over the past few decades, there are still plenty of expectations, disappointments, and emotions that go along with sex, especially when it comes to the casual one-night stand. For many women, the consequences of a one-night stand can sometimes lead to guilt, embarrassment, and even shame.
But for Laffrey, a one-night stand changed much more in her life than her emotions. It had an effect on her forever.
During her college years, Laffrey recalls having attractive friends, but always feeling slightly out of place. One night, after her roommate left to hang out with a guy, Laffrey decided that she, too, should have some fun.
He was a guy she had met at a party the previous week. Excited about his call, Laffrey didn’t require much for him to sell himself. An hour later, she was outside waiting for him to pick her up.
“I remember standing outside to wait for him ... I noticed a pizza delivery truck across the road with its headlights on ... that vehicle sat there and sat there,” she remembers. “This strange sense came over me and I knew I had time to run back to my room and forget the whole thing. But again, I had a point to prove. It was him [in the pizza truck] and I went.”
That night, Laffrey and her new friend party-hopped, going to different houses to hang out and drink. As the night dwindled down, they went back to his place and, as the saying goes, one thing led to another.
Up to this point, Laffrey’s story is far from unique. It should come as no great surprise that lack of condom use and drinking are both common occurrences among college youth. In a study on condom use and heavy drinking among college students, 64 percent of participants reported they didn’t always use a condom during sex. The study also included the influence of alcohol on decision-making.
A life-changing diagnosis
But back to Laffrey: Two years after her one-night stand, she met a great guy and fell in love. She had a child with him. Life was good.
Then, a few days after giving birth, her doctor called her back in to the office. They sat her down and revealed that she was HIV-positive. It’s routine practice for doctors to give mothers-to-be a test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But Laffrey never expected to get this result. After all, she’d only had unprotected sex with two people in her life: the guy she met two years prior in college and the father of her child.
"I felt like I failed at life, was going to die, and there was no turning back," remembers Kamaria. "I was worried about my daughter, no one ever loving me, never getting married, and all my dreams being pointless. In that moment at the doctor's office, I had started planning my funeral. Whether from HIV or taking my own life, I didn't want to face disappointing my parents or being associated with the stigma."
Her baby’s father tested negative for HIV. That’s when Laffrey faced the stunning realization that her one-night stand was the source. The guy in the pizza truck had left her with more sorrow than she could ever imagine.
“People ask how I know it was him: Because he was the only person I had been with — without protection — besides my baby’s father. I know my child’s father got tested and he is negative. He has also had other children since my child with other women and they are all negative.
A positive voice for HIV awareness
While Laffrey’s story is one of many, her point is incredibly powerful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States alone, there are 1.1 million people living with the HIV virus, and 1 out of 7 people don’t know they have it.
It’s possible for some babies to avoid contracting HIV even if the mother is HIV-positive. After several HIV tests and close monitoring, it was determined that Laffrey’s child was not HIV-positive. Today, Laffrey is working to instill self-esteem in her daughter, something she says plays a big part in sexual health. “I emphasize how she should love herself first and not expect anyone to show her how to be loved,” she says.
Before meeting HIV face-to-face, Laffrey didn’t think much about STDs. In that way, she’s probably like many of us. “My only concern with STIs before I was diagnosed was as long as I didn’t feel any symptoms then I should be fine. I knew that there were some that had no symptoms, but I thought only ‘dirty’ people got those,” she says.
Laffrey is now an advocate for HIV awareness and shares her story on many platforms. She’s moving forward with her life. While she’s no longer with the father of her child, she’s married someone who’s a great dad and dedicated husband. She continues to tell her story in the hope of saving women’s self-esteem — sometimes even their lives.
Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog which highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. Her passions include dermatology and skin care as well as sexual and mental health. You can find Alisha on Twitter and Instagram.