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What I Have Learned About HIV/AIDS

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By , 19, Contributor Originally Published: March 3, 2016 Revised: March 3, 2016

A couple of years ago, I didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS. In sex ed classes throughout middle and high school, I only learned the basic facts about sex and what the potential risks were—pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). HIV/AIDS was briefly discussed.

I set the topic of HIV/AIDS on the backburner, while I focused my sex education on birth control and family planning. HIV/AIDS was just not on my radar until I saw The Normal Hearta movie (adapted from a play) that depicts HIV/AIDS so brilliantly. With a star-studded cast, consisting of Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart, which is about the evolution of HIV/AIDS education, treatment and awareness from the 1980s to today, piqued my interest. As I watched the movie, I couldn’t believe the homophobia that I saw, especially among medical professionals. I cannot fathom what this must have been like for those who desperately needed care. Furthermore, seeing how the disease affected someone’s body, even if it was just represented in a movie, moved me.

While we’ve made strides since the 1980s in terms of awareness and medicine, there’s still so much more that needs to be done. I fully believe it’s up to us (especially teenagers) to learn as much as we can about HIV/AIDS so that we can fight for an HIV/AIDS-free world.

Get Tested

Even if you are confident that you most likely do not have HIV/AIDS, or any STD for that matter, get tested. The Normal Heart portrays how a majority of men who had HIV didn’t actually recognize they had it until it was too late.

On World’s AIDS Day (December 1), my college hosted free, confidential HIV testing. I decided to get tested for HIV, as I was curious about the process. What was going to happen to me? Would the testing hurt, or would I feel nothing? Even more so, I had no idea if I was going to test positive or negative for HIV. That definitely added to my nerves. A volunteer with my college’s local HIV/AIDS center who administered my test calmed my anxiety. With a simple and painless finger prick, my results were given to me. (Another type of test sometimes offered is a mouth swab test, which involves a sweep of the mouth with a swab. Results are back in 15 minutes.) After my test was over, I realized how easy it was. There was nothing to fear.

You can get tested too! Sex, Etc. even has its own clinic finder where you can find a testing site near you!

Tell Someone

Whether it’s your best friend, parent, teacher, doctor or counselor, tell someone you trust that you’re being tested. Do not wait until the test results come back—speak to someone as soon as you know you’re going to be tested. This person will be able to support you, especially if you’re feeling anxious or nervous. You’ll have someone to lean on and talk to, which could completely change your experience for the better.

Prevention & Treatment

Whether you test positive or negative for HIV, make sure you are practicing safer sex to reduce the risk of getting an STD. According to the World Health Organization, protection of all sorts, from the use of condoms to avoiding sharing needles, decreases HIV/AIDS transmission rates.

In middle and high school, I learned that using a condom was the only protection against STDs. However, I’ve since learned that protection comes in all shapes, sizes and forms: pills, dental dams, etc. Make sure you know your options if you decide to have sex. There are tons out there, waiting to be found! Education is the most powerful tool you can have—be sure to use it!

For those who test positive for HIV, a health care professional will be able to address any medical concerns you have and talk to you about treatment options. When I was tested for HIV, I asked the person who gave me my test numerous questions. He was able to provide me with answers, as well as statistics, websites and locations where I could receive support.

No matter how young or old you may be, it’s always great to learn more about STD and HIV prevention and treatment. Even at 19, I’m still discovering new information about sex that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

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