There is a class offered by Coursera every few months called AIDS: Fear and Hope with Richard Meisler, Ph.D. A friend of mine suggested I take it after he had taken it last semester. It helped that Dr. Meisler is a professor at my alma mater, but I decided that HIV/AIDS is something that I don’t know much about but probably should.
According to a 2013 survey done among U.S. high school students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
- 47% have had sexual intercourse.
- 34% have had sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months, and, of these:
- 41% did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
- 15% had had sex with four or more people during their life.
One of the most worrisome statistics, though, is that only 22% of sexually experienced students have ever been tested for HIV.
The CDC also revealed that “nearly 10,000 young people, aged 13-24, were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States in 2013.” So why are only 22% getting tested?
Even though HIV/AIDS first appeared in the United States in 1981, there is still a stigma surrounding the disease. Misconceptions and this stigma make it difficult for people to recognize that they could be at serious risk for contracting HIV. Some of the top misconceptions include that homosexual men and those who use intravenous drugs are more likely to contract HIV than others, and that HIV can be spread through non-sexual contact such as hugging, sharing toilet seats, or sharing utensils. None of these are true, among other rumors about HIV. But those details belong in a post all its own.
The point is, contracting HIV is a risk that anyone who engages in unprotected sex takes. Women need to be aware of the possible dangers of unprotected sex and be empowered to ask their partner(s) to get tested, even if they think it’ll be an awkward conversation.
A good way to broach the topic is to suggest getting tested together. Explain that there’s no reason to take the risk of either of you contracting an STD when testing is easier than ever (a mouth swab can detect the antibodies present when a person has HIV). Sure, it might be awkward at first, but do you want to be intimate with someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart when it comes to your health and your life?
Getting tested makes you informed and gives a way to encourage others in your life to get tested. It’s easier to buck against the stigma when you have someone there by your side.
HIV is no longer a death sentence, thanks to research and modern medicine. But human beings are sexual by nature, and HIV will keep spreading as long as people have unprotected sex and don’t know their HIV status. Is the awkwardness of getting tested or asking your partner to get tested with you worth risking your health to a disease for which there is still no cure?
Get tested. Empower yourself.