5 Facts for HIV Awareness Month
If you were lucky enough to have sex ed in high school, your teacher probably told you that HIV/AIDS is the scariest, deadliest, and craziest sexually transmitted infection (STI) there is—in my health class they pretty much left it at that. Clearly, there’s more to know about HIV than that scare tactic, but since a lot has changed in the last few decades, I’ll give those sex ed teachers the benefit of the doubt.
Today more young people are using condoms and HIV can be treated (though not cured) with powerful drugs—especially if it’s caught early. Yet while HIV may no longer be seen as a death sentence, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. So, since knowledge is power and July is National HIV Awareness Month, here are 5 things you should know about HIV.
1) It’s not just ‘them’ who are at risk (it’s ‘us’). More young people are at risk for getting HIV than you might think—including young women. In fact, we make up 25% of new cases and we contract it at higher rates than our male partners/friends/lovers when having sexual intercourse (more surface area = more risk). I’m not trying to induce panic, but it’s worth noting that anyone can have or get HIV regardless of what they look like or what demographic they belong to. In other words, protecting yourself is important even if you’re not in the “risk groups” your gym teacher told you about.
2) It’s always worth using condoms. If he’s barebacking (as in not using a condom) with you during a hookup, he’s probably done it with someone else, who’s done it with another person (you see where I’m going with this…). Birth control is the only way to prevent pregnancy (besides not having sex, of course) and condoms prevent both pregnancy and HIV transmission (Condom <3). Here are some tips on talking about condoms if you’re single or in a long-term relationship (I recommend reading both). If you want to practice using a condom, follow these instructions or download CondomPro.
3) Getting tested is easy, often free, and very important for you and your partner. Your local clinic (or student clinic) can test for HIV with an oral swab or a blood test—just make sure to call ahead to see which kind of test they do if you don’t like needles (or like needles and don’t like cotton swabs). There are tons of clinics that will perform free or reduced-cost HIV tests—check out the CDC’s HIV website to find one near you. If you do test positive, there are tons of resources and reliable drugs that help control the illness.
4) Spermicide is good at killing sperm—not HIV. Spermicide (when used without a condom) does not prevent against HIV and may even increase your risk of getting HIV or other STIs since it can irritate the inside of the vagina. If you’re using spermicide without a condom, get yourself and your partner tested to make sure you’re being safe.
5) Other STIs, like herpes or gonorrhea, make it easier to get HIV. Apparently, these STIs make exposed surfaces more prone to infection, including HIV. Oh, and having HIV also makes it easier to get herpes—talk about a dangerous symbiotic relationship. One more reason to get tested—and treated, if necessary—for all STIs, not just HIV.
Bedsider thinks that babies are great when you’re ready. HIV, on the other hand, is never great and the best thing you can do (for yourself and your partners) is to avoid getting it in the first place. That said, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to any STIs—getting tested and knowing your status is the best way to stay healthy, regardless of what the test says.
“1 in 5” infographic from Aids.gov.
Catherine Rivera is an intern for Bedsider. When she’s not counseling, teaching, researching or writing about sex and relationships, this Stanford University student can be found passing out condoms to her fellow students, mentoring middle school girls, indulging her sweet tooth , reading the news, or attempting to get inside the heads of her four younger brothers. Catherine doesn’t have a personal tumblr (yet), but you can follow her on twitter @cmrivera2013.
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