What Every Teen Needs to Know About HIV and AIDS
There are so many misconceptions surrounding HIV and AIDS. Myth and misunderstanding are fueled by the media, by fear and by ignorance. Let’s take a look at the truth: five things every teen should know about HIV and AIDS.
HIV Does Not Discriminate
Since the epidemic began over 20 years ago, stereotypes have surfaced as to who HIV-infected people are. White gay males, drug users and prostitutes are labeled as the faces of HIV and AIDS. Nothing could be further from the truth. HIV knows no boundaries and certainly doesn’t discriminate. The fact is that anyone can get HIV, from elderly men and women living in a nursing home to teens planning their next prom. Men and women, adults and children, rich and poor, the homeless and the college professor … HIV can infect anyone who doesn’t take the proper precautions. Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone say that HIV can’t affect you. Since the epidemic began, more than 50,000 teens like yourself have contracted HIV and progressed to AIDS, many of them dying before the age of 20.
Oral Sex Is Not As Safe As You Think
While most everyone knows how HIV is spread from person to person, most people underestimate the risk involved in some behaviors. Oral sex is often thought of as the “safer sex.” Its incidence among young adults and teens is well-documented. In fact, some studies have shown that oral sex in high schools is as common as kissing was 20 years ago. Many adolescents believe that oral sex is a safe way to engage in sex, free from the worry of pregnancy and disease. The truth is that oral sex is not as safe as you think. Studies have concluded that infected bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions have high concentrations of HIV, and can enter the blood stream through the mucous membranes of the mouth. One such study revealed that, in one group of newly infected HIV-positive young adults, many reported their only sexual contact was oral sex.
There Is More To Worry About Than Pregnancy
Even with all the media attention HIV gets these days, many teens still believe that the only risk associated with unprotected sex is pregnancy. So to prevent pregnancy, teens use birth-control techniques such as oral sex or the withdrawal method (pulling out) prior to ejaculation–which, incidentally, is not an effective birth-control method. Unfortunately, there is more to be concerned about. The incidence of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, is on the rise among teens. Many of these STDs are for life, meaning there is no cure. Herpes, syphilis and HIV are real concerns that, if contracted, will be with you a lifetime. For these reasons, and to minimize your risk of STDs and HIV, latex condoms are a must each and every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex.
People Sometimes Hide the Truth / People Sometimes Don’t Truly Know
Not every teen ignores the risks of HIV. Some ask the important questions of their partners–but what they do with the answers they receive is just as important. Think about it for a moment. How many people will admit they are HIV-infected if asked by the new love in their life? How many will admit to their sexual history when they are trying to win the affections of their new love interest? How many people really know their HIV status and the status of the people they have been with in the past?
Unfortunately, due in part to the prejudices surrounding HIV and AIDS, many people are not willing to disclose their status to potential sexual partners, for fear of discrimination and prejudice. Furthermore, many are reluctant to ask the questions of their partners prior to sex–or if they do, the tendency is to take the answers they get as fact. The only way anyone knows his HIV status is to get tested. A claim of “My past partner was negative” is only acceptable if it is backed by a negative test.
HIV Kills, and There Is No Cure
We hear about the success of HIV medications. People are living longer due to the advent of powerful HIV medications that help fight the virus. Unfortunately, the medications are not a cure. While they do allow for longer lives, HIV still kills. Since the epidemic began, over 500,000 people have died from HIV and AIDS. Liver disease, pneumonia and serious infection of the brain and other internal organs are constant companions of those living and fighting the disease. The medicines are not a quick fix to an HIV infection. They are difficult to take and cause many side effects, such as fat accumulations in the stomach and neck, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, rashes and vomiting. They have to be taken many times each day, and often lead to liver and kidney disease. And they cost thousands of dollars each year. The best way to stay healthy is not through HIV medications, but by avoiding HIV in the first place.
Misconceptions can be dangerous, especially where HIV and AIDS are concerned. Know the important facts about HIV and insist on condoms if sex is part of your relationship. Remember, HIV and AIDS are for life, and they do kill.
Mark Cichocki, RN
Mark is an HIV/AIDS nurse specialist at the University of Michigan Health System.
About this Author
Lara Alspaugh is a freelance health writer out of Michigan. She is a Registered Nurse and a former professional figure skater and coach. Her passion for health, fitness and family wellness has fueled her work. Her writing can be found in print and on the Internet.