Sixty three percent of young people will have sex before they graduate high school, and 95 percent will have sex before they are married. For young people to make healthy discussions about sex, we need to provide them with the information they need.
April 10 was recognized as the first annual National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD). This year’s theme is “Engaging Youth Voices in the Response to HIV/AIDS.”
The day is set aside to recognize the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic specifically on young people and to educate the public, as well as highlight the exceptional work young people are doing across the country to strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Young people are disproportionately impacted by Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV and unexpected pregnancy. Comprehensive sexual health education helps to reduce rates by providing complete and accurate information.
Education enables young people to make more informed decisions about sex and healthy relationships. Research shows that effective sex educational programs have positive outcomes, such as delaying the initiation of sex, decreasing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the use of contraceptives and condoms.
Research has shown that young people in abstinence-only programs still engage in sexual activity before marriage and are less likely to protect themselves when they do have sex.
The awareness day “is an important way to increase awareness about HIV and its impact on young people in this country,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee, co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, who introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (H.R. 1706).
“Our youth deserve comprehensive and evidence-based sex education so they can make healthy decisions and have healthy relationships,” said Congresswoman Lee.
Youth of color are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The HIV diagnosis among African American young people, ages 13 to 24, who have sex with men, accounted for nearly 63 percent of all new infections in 2009.
Jakeem Jordan of West Palm Beach, Florida, created “Get tested,” a rap song that encourages youth to get tested and know their status. Jordan says that God put it in his spirit a few years ago after he graduated as a medical assistant.
“A lot of my friends and I were having sex, but no one wanted to talk about their results,” he said. “So I thought, we need to start talking, knowing our statistics.”
Porchia Dees was born HIV-positive in 1986 in San Bernardino. “I always knew I was sick and knew it was called HIV/AIDS,” Dees said about growing up with the disease.
During seventh grade sex education in school, she first realized how stigmatized her disease was. “I could tell from the other children’s reactions how bad they thought HIV and AIDS were. So I didn’t share my status until high school,” she said.
There she dated a guy who knew about her status and after their breakup, he started spreading her business around the high school.
During those years, she had a rough patch of depression, started drinking and partying. In 2011, her kidneys failed and she was put on dialysis.
Dees says after the second dialysis treatment, her kidneys started functioning. “I felt like God keeps saving my life, and I’m here for a reason.”
She went back to school and started speaking out to combat stigma.
The CDC estimates that nearly 10,000 young people ages 13 to 24 were diagnosed with HIV in 2013, representing more than 20 percent of newly diagnosed cases that year.
Today youth believe their risk is low, which means that protection is not a priority. It is predicted that 50 percent of youth infected with HIV have no clue that they are positive and are likely to continue to infect others.