Youth Aids Day: First Gen Who’ve Never Known a World Without HIV

Nov. 25, 2015 Update World Aids Day is coming up Dec. 1st, and Durex is promoting the creation of a “condom emoji” to be used via social media to shorthand safety messages for public health.

April 10, 2013 “I’m a virgin! I’m not gay. I don’t use drugs! I’ve never had sex, none of this applies to me.”

These are the kinds of responses and misinformation both teens and their parents have lobbed my way as we uncork important conversations about HIV/AIDS today, the first ever National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day. (NYHAAD)

Yesterday as the excellent public health conference (youth+tech+health) wrapped up, I was amazed and inspired by candid presentations and youth outreach to debunk stereotypes, stigmas, myths and misinformation in a world where 1000 youth per month between the ages of 13-24 are still acquiring HIV. (1 in 4!)

HIV/AIDS positioned as ‘someone else’s issue’ is a key part of the problem, and I loved how the non-cheesy, au courant, very valid and authentic peer dynamics depicted in the Kaiser Permanente educational live theater presentation put forth some serious myth-busting in a fresh, engaging way.

Today I’m focusing primarily on the role of heteronormative “not me” conditioning that plays out societally among non-LGBTQ parents and youth regarding HIV/AIDS, as I feel there are huge gaps here that Kaiser did a great job addressing.

Hey, teens, ever thought about those home piercings or tattoo needles? Check. Yep, they covered that…

What about top of mind teen questions like “can you get HIV/AIDS through oral sex?” Uh-huh, answered.

Bluff-n-stuff “I’m a virgin” dating betrayals and cowardly block and bury tactics of prior partners to retain current love interest? Duly noted.

Bleary-eyed intoxication with compromised cogence? Definitely addressed…

Kaiser’s “Secrets” depicting senior year HS students in a live theater arts edu program, managed to embed important health literacy and mythology/misinformation from house parties to hookups into live media entertainment in a way that vaulted me into “why aren’t all schools educating like this” impressiveness by leaving no stone unturned in the ‘this doesn’t apply to me’ stream.

They also managed to toss in all the major FAQs…

AND tackle symptom-less misperceptions of both STDs and HIV/AIDS…

To me, this is absolutely imperative, as I’ve heard teens often say,

“In school they talk about AIDS/HIV and getting really skinny and immune systems compromised”

…Yet without comprehensive sex ed (and as many teens have said, sex ed is given once, in freshman year of high school, often too early to ‘stick’ with non-sexually active students who tune out for future use) the message is often not properly conveyed.

Without bluntly reminding that there can be NO symptoms at all, some kids end up falsely thinking they ‘don’t have anything’ or ‘have never been exposed’ and thus would never, ever bother to get tested…whether for STDs or HIV/AIDS…

(Kaiser  did a great job of reminding STDs are not necessarily about rashes/sores/symptoms and such, there’s a carrier modality as well)

And please, adults, use specifics with youth, not “Are you sexually active?”…DEFINE that…Don’t get all Clintonian and nebulous.

One of my favorite paraphrased lines in the theater production involving awkwardness over the condom/banana safe sex edu scene is “If you’re unable to talk about sex, you aren’t ready to have sex…” Truth.

In sum, it’s ironic that this very HIV/AIDS impacted generation of youth is still highly at risk for misinformation…

Students may check in with peers/partial information, while parents and educators offer a ‘head in the sand’ ostrich-style incomplete education…yet we have access to massive resource-rich research, GPS clinic mapping for easy testing, as well as the social media and marketing tools to virally spread safety messages far and wide! (share easily with this NYHAAD infographic) Yet the CDC reported in fall 2012 that among youth specifically, HIV rates are high and testing is low! 

What can YOU do to help banish AIDS for this generation?

As a parent, you can ditch the NIMBY stigmas and stereotyped imagery by race, creed, color or sexuality and educate yourself and your children with awareness and outreach to stay updated, and use media to open those conversations! (judging by even the most basic health questions showing up in the Generation Know/Kotex surveys here, there are some gaping holes engaging with adolescents on bodily functions like getting periods…much less HIV/AIDS!)

As a teen, you can leave judgment at the door and start social norming the concept of getting tested as smart and safe, regardless of how you walk through the world and with whom.

As media you can start reporting with accuracy over sensationalism…Facts over fears…

And as a generally informed member of humanity, you can school yourself with compassion by trend-tracking stigmas, helping youth find clinics and peer to peer counseling, and look in the mirror to see if you’re ascribing to a misguided, homophobic compartmentalization of people who don’t ‘get it’ that AIDS/HIV is a public health issue FOR ALL…

Here are more ways to get involved today to “amplify” education through media, via Advocates for Youth.

Familiarize yourself with the Campaign to End AIDS (coalition of people living with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones) and read about the young leaders moving this conversation forward in positive, open, peer to peer education and squashing of social stigmas with the first ever NYHAAD.

Most of all..don’t turn away. Listen up. Because we’re specifically talking to YOU.

And to you. And you. And you…

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