Wednesday marks the first ever National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. The good news is that we now have an official day to recognize and raise awareness for HIV and AIDS in young people. The bad news is there are still 1000 new cases of young people contracting HIV every month. This rate of infection remains too high because so many young people are not getting the valuable information they need to protect themselves and their partners.
I was born and raised in Broward County in Florida, a county which, like much of Florida’s other counties, teaches abstinence-only programs. Instead of getting evidence-based and scientifically backed information, I remember getting opinion-based nonsense. Rather than learning about birth control and how to avoid unintended pregnancies, I got lectures meant to scare and shame me out of having sex. Instead of learning about condoms and how to protect myself from HIV and other STIs, I had to sit through a slideshow of grotesque pictures of very advanced sexually transmitted infections. I never understood what the hell I was supposed to be learning. Those “lessons” never stuck in my head as applicable to my life.
Right now, billions of dollars are being used to fund this type of inadequate education all over the country. Many of these students largely leave the classrooms feeling similar to what I felt, with sex being portrayed as something shameful.
Evidence-based comprehensive sex education is long overdue. Young people need to be learning about their bodies, healthy relationships and how to protect themselves and their partners during sexual activity. The act of sexual intercourse shouldn’t be the first time a person sees a condom. The simple question of have you been tested shouldn’t be a taboo subject. If more people were educated on how a person contracted HIV, we could bring down the rates of new infections.
We have the opportunity to take a big step in the right direction about this right now. The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, first introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator Barbara Lee, would create universal requirements for age-appropriate and fact based sex education that will arm young people with the information to make informed decisions regarding their sexuality.
Currently, 39 states mandate abstinence-only programs, but access to real information about sex should be a right. If schools would require comprehensive sex education more young people would be approaching sexuality with the tools to help them be safe, successful, and have fun. After all, sex should be fun. (No matter what some people tell you.)
If you are tired of having your sexuality ignored, your intelligence questioned, and your choices restricted, then it’s time for you to get up and do something. Contact those Senators and Representatives that you helped put in office and ask them to co-sponsor the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act.
Helping us move towards a country where all people have the information and resources to protect themselves during sexual activity is the best way possible to recognize National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day.