Former Playboy Bunny Rebekka Armstrong was 21 when her doctor told her that she was HIV positive

from – When she was 18, Rebekka Armstrong became a Playboy Playmate. Miss September 1986 was living out a dream. Three years later, her dream started to rapidly descend.

Armstrong’s doctor told her that she had HIV.

“When [the doctor] told me that I was HIV positive, I lost it. The only thing I knew about HIV was death,” Armstrong said as she spoke to TU students Thursday in the Potomac Lounge.

Physical deterioration, endless partying and drug and alcohol abuse marked the following years.

Eventually the former Playmate was homeless and sleeping in garages. She even attempted suicide, which landed her in a psychiatric hospital.

It was after this that she first realized that she wasn’t alone. Armstrong was introduced to a number of other women of different ages who were also carrying the same fate.

“That’s when I realized I had to go public,” she said. “I will help save the life of another woman.”

She went back to Playboy and got their support. She started researching and writing about the disease, eventually starting her own Web site to get the word out.

Since she was infected as a teenager, she wanted to be someone who could educate teenage girls about what HIV really is.

“There was no one in my classroom talking to me about it, so I wanted to go out and talk to students,” she said.

Today, 20 years after she was first diagnosed with HIV, Armstrong has transformed her life and her story into one of “empowerment.”

“This is one of the many faces of AIDS,” she said to students. “I highly doubt you’d be walking through campus and say ‘That bitch got AIDS,’” she added to break the tension in the audience.

While her message is serious, Armstrong said the humor of her presentation is not just to hear the laughs.

Staying optimistic and upbeat has helped to keep her alive.

“By putting on a funny face and laughing and putting on a good vibe, it’s saving my life,” she said.

One of her central messages to students was the importance of safe sex, which was the foremost reason that the Campus Activities Board invited her to Towson University to talk to students.

“Being that sex is an important topic in college, I want people to see the repercussions of not having safe sex,” NaShey Ingram, programming chair for CAB, said.

Armstrong was candid with the students about how vital it is to protect themselves.

She said that abstinence is the only way to guarantee that you will not get HIV or other STDs. She said she knows, however, that students live in the reality of college life.

Just like drinking and going to parties, they are going to choose to have sex, she said.

“Take the time to protect yourself. You are worth it. One of these could have saved my life,” she said, holding up a condom.

Armstrong never blamed anyone but herself for what happened.

She said people will ask her who infected her. She will point to herself and say, “I infected me.”

Even though she was at ease addressing the students at Towson, she wasn’t as comfortable talking about HIV when she first started talking to the public. It was painful, she said.

“I was so afraid of what you were going to think of me,” she said.

As her story continues, she said she will move forward in life with the same optimism that she instills in her message.

“As far as my future is concerned, I’m definitely going to be around for it,” she said.

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