World AIDS Day is December 1.
By Colleen Brady, Prevention Education Health Educator
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are, or someone close to you is, at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Most of us may not think we are vulnerable, but HIV/AIDS is still a major health threat. Scientists are closer to a cure, but they’re not there yet.
HIV/AIDS is not talked about much in the national news these days, nor is it often mentioned in our local Baltimore news. But the fact is that every 8 minutes another person in Baltimore contracts HIV. That’s 180 people newly infected by the virus every day. As those infected are living longer with HIV, many of us have come to see the virus more as a chronic illness. But people still die. Did you know that 1 in 5 people who are HIV positive don’t know that they have the virus? Teens and young adults have the highest rate of infection today. And here’s a fact that may surprise you: the number of women over age 50 with AIDS has tripled in the last decade.
Whether you are 20 or 50, if you have unprotected sex, you are at risk. Abstinence is the number one way to avoid getting HIV in the first place.
You can’t tell by looking whether a person is infected. One unprotected sexual encounter is all it takes to get HIV. If the virus goes undetected and untreated, it can lead to AIDS more quickly.
In recent conversations I’ve had with both teens and parents about sex, both referred to protection as birth control pills and not condoms. It seems that The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found the same thing. The agency teamed up with Seventeen Magazine to create a survey on current teen sexual behavior. The findings, published in their report Girl Talk, note that only 45% of sexually active high school senior girls regularly use protection (contraception).
When I talk to students, guys often say they’d rather not use a condom. At that point, I turn to the girls and ask them if there is a message that their partner’s pleasure is more important than their health. The girls become a little indignant. A light dawns as they realize they’re putting themselves at risk, and some of the guys start to get it.
Television shows, movies, the Internet, books and magazines may devalue sex, but values come from home. You don’t have to defend your choice to wait – or offer anyone an explanation.
World AIDS Day, which is observed on December 1, presents a great opportunity to have open and honest conversations with those we care about. Our best means of ending HIV is to stop spreading it.
If you are sexually active, get tested and from now on protect yourself and your partner. If you know that your friends don’t use condoms, share the information. For parents of teens or young adults, even if it feels uncomfortable, while you’re discussing your values about sex, let them know that they must always protect themselves.
Find out where to get tested by visiting our website www.ifiknew.org.
By Colleen Brady, Prevention Education Health Educator, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.