A call to action: We must stop HIV among youths

By Alan Rivera

The LGBT community in the United States has fought many battles and achieved many victories, but it continues to fight inequality on many fronts, especially when it pertains to gay and bisexual men and HIV.

From personal experience, sex education in the United States is a two-week health course. Two days are dedicated to sexual health, but homosexual relationships are seldom included. The transmission of HIV and AIDS is discussed in one day, and condoms and abstinence are introduced as the only prevention methods.

As a gay man, protecting myself from HIV looms over my sexual life. Medical advances have brought forth Pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP or Truvada, a pill that is taken daily and lowers a person’s chances of contracting HIV. From personal experience, obtaining PrEP is a matter of whether your doctor believes in the drug or agrees with your sexual preference. When I was turned down and ridiculed for worrying about my sexual health, I tried to turn to other places. There weren’t any.

PrEP is for people who are HIV-negative but are at high-risk for contracting the virus, according to federal guidelines. The CDC states high-risk individuals include people who are in sexual relationships with HIV-positive people, non-monogamous gay or bisexual men who engage in unprotected sex, heterosexual men and women who engage in unprotected sex and are unaware of their partner’s HIV status or risk and intravenous drug users.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, gay and bisexual men composed 76 percent of new HIV infections among all youths, who accounted for an estimated 26 percent (12,200) of all new HIV infections (47,500) in the United States.

The number of young, HIV-infected gay and bisexual men, as reported by the CDC, spiked 22 percent between 2008 and 2010. The group was the only one to experience a significant rise in infection rates.

In the 1980s, gay men fell ill and died from an unknown disease labeled “gay cancer,” later recognized as AIDS. Sons, brothers, uncles and lovers were lost, but non-profit organizations, philanthropists and medical knowledge drove efforts against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Once the epidemic appeared tamed, most Americans considered it a resolved issue. But the CDC’s 2010 statistics proved contrary.

The rise of HIV infection rates among young gay and bisexual men goes hand-in-hand with a decline in sexual education courses in middle school and high school curricula. According to the CDC, the inclusion of HIV and AIDS in health education courses fell from 92 percent in 1997 to 85 percent in 2013. And even when HIV and AIDS are included in curricula, they fail to be covered in depth.

Instead of reducing sexual education classes in the public school system, we need to increase them and elevate their rigor in order for young people to become aware of preventative methods against HIV and the risks of unprotected sex. If we can prevent young people, regardless of sexual orientation, from contracting HIV and potentially AIDS, we must invest in sex education.

However, the education system is not the sole entity to blame for the rise of HIV infections among gay and bisexual youths. The government has fallen short, too.

The creation of a new health agency for gay and bisexual men is not the solution; rather, Planned Parenthood should gear its efforts toward offering PrEP and other preventative measures to gay and bisexual men.

The difficulty of obtaining PrEP shows the inequality between homosexuals and heterosexuals. For women, birth control is easily accessible through Planned Parenthood if they don’t have a doctor or going to their primary doctor is not an option. The government must make PrEP accessible to anyone who is at risk of contracting HIV and believes it will reduce his or her risk of contracting it.

Some people will argue that the inclusion of homosexual sexual relationships and emphasis on HIV and AIDS will promote homosexuality in public schools, but that is not the case: it’s out there, it’s always been out there and it’s never going away. When it comes to PrEP, opponents will argue that making it accessible will promote promiscuity. But in reality, people simply want to take additional precautions against HIV.

Increasing PrEP’s accessibility will save many lives. Why wouldn’t we take steps within our reach to save lives?

HIV and AIDS can be eradicated, but the American education system and government needs to enhance sexual education and make preventative medication accessible to make eradication possible.

Sex Education

Monica Lopez / The Poly Post

Sex Education

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