This is something that I have thought about for quite some time and that is the face of modern days AIDS – is it helping or hurting the cause? Hear me out, then hate me.
There are certain social groups out there dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and our youth. Examining the recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, we see it is needed.
- Youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 26% of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010.
- Most new HIV infections among youth occur among gay and bisexual males; there was a 22% increase in estimated new infections in this group from 2008 to 2010.
- Over 50% of youth with HIV in the United States do not know they are infected. – www.cdc.gov
Yes, these numbers are high, scary, and upsetting. What is the difference between what these youths are experiencing and what many of us went through when we were their age growing up gay/bi ? Is the biggest factor the time we live in? I'm 41 and can remember the days of listening to the lack of support from the Reagan administration, hearing updates about the gay cancer, all the way up to Ryan White's death in 1990 and the release of the movie Philadelphia in 1993. HIV and AIDS were in the news, in the classrooms, and for some of us in our home and our circle of friends. We had Michael, Elizabeth, and Elton being very vocal and out there raising awareness and funds for the cause.
Of course Michael and Elizabeth have left us as well as many friends and loved ones, but I am sure others have taken up the reins, no? Are these foundations still out there or are we just not paying attention as much? Where are the visuals? Where is the news coverage? Are we all about bullying now and don't have the attention span to deal with that and AIDS and marriage equality and if certain words should be used to describe members of our LGBT community?
What it may come down to is that most of us are not as concerned anymore because it is not in our face, and yes, pun intended. It's out of sight and out of mind. Here are some other stats from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention which may be leading to the rise in youth infection rates.
Low perception of risk. A majority of 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States responding to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey said they were not concerned about becoming infected with HIV, which means they may not take measures to protect their health.
Declining health education. The prevalence of having been taught in school about HIV infection or AIDS decreased from 92% in 1997 to 85% in 2013.
Low rates of testing. It is estimated that in 2010, about 50% of youth aged 13 to 24 with HIV in the United States were unaware of their infection, compared to 14% overall. In a 2013 survey, only 13% of high school students (22% of those who had ever had sexual intercourse), and in a 2010 survey, only 35% of adults aged 18 to 24 had been tested for HIV.
Low rates of condom use. In a 2013 survey in the United States, of the 34% of high school students reporting sexual intercourse in the previous 3 months, 41% did not use a condom.
High rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some of the highest STD rates in the United States are among youth aged 20 to 24, especially those of minority races and ethnicities. The presence of an STD greatly increases a person’s likelihood of acquiring or transmitting HIV.
Older partners. Young gay and bisexual men are more likely to choose older sex partners than those of their own age, and older partners are more likely to be infected with HIV. – www.cdc.gov
But what is the catalyst for all of these awful statistics? What might be the common thread out there leading to these harmful increases and decreases? Could the rise in HIV and AIDS be due to the fact that infected people no longer receive a death sentence? Could it be also that treatments have assisted in preventing other occurrences and therefore diminished the external markers of AIDS and the infected don't look as bad as they use to? Yes, I know that's pretty harsh to say, but then again, it may be true. Tyler Curry's video below states that infected people in the 2000's are not as bad off visually and health wise as those of the '80s and '90s. Many have commented his video is glorifying that those with AIDS today look a lot better than those in the past, they're still alive, and they should go out and live for HIV and AIDS is not a death sentence anymore if treated correctly. The stigma is still there, but it's not all on the surface anymore. Watch the following video and see what you get from it.
I do not know anyone personally or intimately that has died "due to AIDS," but I do have older friends that have lost loved ones and have seen them deteriorate and leave this earth. It sounds so brash and cold, but it is almost like that is what is missing from our youth's education. That fear of not living a full life, not wanting to be seen in public, not wanting to try to love or live. We have so many positive POSITIVE good looking roll models today, even ones that are real models. If the face of AIDS was not that of a healthy virile person, but instead the face we all remember from the '80s and Philadelphia, would there be as many positive youths? Would HIV/AIDS be just as scary to them as it was to us? It's sad to say, but it seems today's advancements, treatments, the health and well being of infected individuals may have a negative side effect in that it makes the disease not as visually detrimental. And when it comes to Americans, you have to agree, "out of sight, out of mind." And then I say it has become less scary for our youth, but has it become less scary for those of us older than 24, too?
I applaud the advancements we have had in treating this epidemic. I do have friends that are living full and vibrant lives with treatment and I wouldn't want it any other way, besides having a cure. But in a visually stimulating, looks driven society, clinically erasing the external blemishes of AIDS and its related illnesses may be one of the reasons why it is not as feared as much.
What are your thoughts?