They came out in droves to Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore on July 17, but they weren’t there for Bible study, or choir rehearsal or a prayer meeting.

They came out to talk about sex.

More than 400 people, most of them women, took part in a program called the “Sex in the City Singles Conference.” The three-day conference included frank discussions about being single and sexual, the health consequences of promiscuity and ways to guard against HIV/AIDS infection. The conference took place just days before national and international policy makers were scheduled to head to Washington, D.C. for the International AIDS Conference.

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, Bethel’s pastor, welcomed a panel of special guests including Baltimore-born singer and HIV activist Paula Campbell and the Rev. Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr., pastor of Eastern Star Baptist Church in Indianapolis and author of The Song of Solomon: Love, Sex and Relationships.

The event included free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling for sexually active attendees.

While many don’t equate the church with sexual discussions other than abstinence, the Rev. FranShon Reid, the pastor’s daughter, said the idea for the event hatched from a sermon by her father on sexual healing.

“A lot of people want to have sex, but they don’t want to talk about it,” FranShon Reid said. “They don’t want to talk about the fallout. They don’t want to talk about how pain from their sexual past affects their relationships…We’re pulling the cover off molestation, shame, rape and doubt in the sexual community.”

A study released by Johns Hopkins University in March labeled Baltimore a “hotspot” for HIV/AIDS. The report said the number of Black women in the city who are infected with the virus is five times higher than they previously estimated. Data for the report was collected from research conducted from May 2009 to July 2010, the study said.

The evening began with a Battle of the Sexes charades game, which pitted men against women acting out names of films and celebrity couples and ended with a powerful message from Johnson, whose theme was “Daddy’s Little Girls,” the title of another of his books. He told the audience to lavish the girls and women in their lives with affirmations to help build self-esteem. “There’s power in the spoken word,” he told the audience.

Johnson discussed the value of self-respect in establishing and maintaining healthy sexual relationships. He urged women not to subordinate their needs and desires to those of their lovers. He referenced the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, which celebrates Black beauty.

“Men get their self-esteem based on work and achievement,” said Johnson, the father of four grown sons. “But oftentimes women get their self-esteem from the success of their relationships.”

Johnson also urged women to strive for financial independence so that they don’t end up dependent on a man. “Money gives you options,” he said to thunderous applause and cheers.

“I thought I was coming here to minister through song,” said Campbell after the event. “But I was really, really blessed and it was great.”

Reid, the pastor, said Bethel A.M.E. has been working in the African American community for 24 years and for much of the time members have been involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The church emphasizes the need for awareness, education and testing. Bethel A.M.E. has partnered with Sisters Together and Reaching (STAR) to sponsor mobile HIV/AIDS testing centers in and around West Baltimore.

“The television show really didn’t speak to the needs of our community,” he said. “It was a romantic, secular portrayal of middle-class to rich women in New York City who were dealing with their issues. But in a 65 percent or more Black city, where poverty, poor education and poor housing are rampant, then sex in the city means something a whole lot different.” 

 

Krishana Davis

AFRO Staff Writers