Written by: Casey Zirbel
Reflection, Protection, & Communication
“Today is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day; I have been reflecting a great deal in preparation of this day, wondering how to relay its significance, as well as how to best convey what I have learned to other young people.
There are many HIV+ young people around the world; In the US, 1 in 4 new HIV diagnoses are among youth between the ages of 13 and 24. While great advances have been made in methods to prevent HIV transmission between parents and their newborns, there are still many babies born HIV+ in the world, even in areas with very sophisticated medical systems. After years without an HIV+ birth in the Bay Area, we saw another child born positive, in an area with one of the most advanced health systems in the nation. There is a great amount of work to be done in “Getting to Zero,” the goal of eventually reaching zero HIV-related deaths, zero new infections, zero stigma, and zero children born HIV+.
What can we do to best protect the health of our selves and our communities? LOTS!
1. PROTECT YOURSELF:
Utilize protection with your partners! Condoms (both internal and external) are very effective in preventing transmission of not just HIV but many sexually transmitted infections as well. PrEP is a medication that has been shown to be very effective in preventing the transmission of HIV when taken regularly. However, I want to stress that PrEP will not protect someone from STIs when having unprotected sex. PrEP IS very effective in preventing HIV infection, but it DOES not protect you against other dangerous infections and diseases which are transmitted sexually; PrEP combined with using condoms, on the other hand, is a very effective prevention strategy for both HIV and the multitude of STIs that exist today.
2. KNOW YOUR STATUS: GET TESTED OFTEN!
While HIV is preventable through utilization of barrier methods and utilizing PrEP (discussed above), I want to stress that regardless of whether you are HIV+ or HIV-, knowing your status is crucial. Despite stigma insisting otherwise, living with HIV is more manageable than in previous decades, ESPECIALLY when detected early! The sooner that someone enters care after becoming infected, the more effective treatment can be! This is especially important given that 1 in 8 HIV+ Americans do not know their status and account for about 1/3 of infections in the United States. Attached to this post is an HIV-test location tool to find a free clinic near you!
3.HONEST COMMUNICATION WITH PARTNERS
We should be 100% honest with our sexual partners, and I believe this has multiple implications. In this era of Tinder and Grindr, it has never been easier to connect with new people, and many folks use these apps to find hook-ups; It can be scary talking to someone you only recently met about your sexual health, but it really shouldn’t be considering the intimacy that you might share! Ask your partner when was the last time that they were tested and tell them when your last test was!
It is VITAL to have honest dialogues with our partners in this way. These conversations should not be limited to testing, either. There should be clear consent expressed by all parties when engaging sexually; This means that everyone involved is 100% comfortable with everything that happens without coercion, fear, or manipulation. This entails bodily and mental integrity. This is very crucial when negotiating use of condoms, for example; If your partner is pushing you to have sex without protection, that is VERY clearly not healthy sexual negotiation and consent.
Even if it makes one feel awkward, it is important to be truthful with your partners about seeing other people; Determining exclusivity is crucial in knowing what risks you are being exposed to. These conversations are important and necessary; otherwise, you can expose yourself to risks you were not even aware of. Risk happens. Condoms can break, and in the heat of the moment, individuals can make decisions that carry high risk. While individuals are responsible for managing when and if they take these risks, having honest communication with your sexual partners will ensure that you aware of the sorts of risks that you may be assuming. Be real and honest with your partners; When you love someone, you shouldn’t put them at risk with your behavior.
4. UTILIZE RESOURCES:
There are many community groups and clinics devoted to the promoting sexual health; many of these sites have free resources such as HIV and STI Testing, barrier methods, and educational programs. I highly recommend using these! Attached to this post is a tool to find a local HIV Testing Site near you!
I would like to thank everyone that influenced me and put me on the path that I am now walking. My interest in promoting my community’s sexual health started during my time with the amazing UCLA Sex Squad. The beautiful souls that I met through my time with this group taught me so much about life, about myself, and about why this mission is essential (You know who you are). I have had the remarkable fortune to have been working at WORLD for almost 6 months now. I am so thankful for every member of the WORLD family that inspires and drives me everyday; You are the sun, moon, and stars to me. You make me confident that we will one day get to Zero.
To the youth reading this: We have the opportunity and obligation to protect our generation’s sexual health. Get tested, stay informed, and be pillars of your community. The health of your community is a reflection of yourself; Let’s protect it together.”
*Statistics acquired from the Centers for Disease Control.
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