The sex education system within the United States is broken and has been for some time. Although hundreds of thousands of kids pass through these courses each year, STD infections as well as HIV/AIDS infections continue to rise. It made me pause to ask myself, why is this? Why is it that our kids supposedly have a wealth of information however are still catching these diseases/virus’s? When the leading HIV infection rates are happening in people 13-24 years of age, we have a problem. These are preventable diseases that people are not taking serious enough or not receiving sufficient information. The main one I would like to focus on today is obviously HIV/AIDS not only because it personally affects my life but because out of all the sexually transmitted diseases out there, AIDS is the only one that will kill. Many of the other conditions out there are no walk in the park to live with but for the most part, they are curable. A couple of weeks of antibiotics or another combination of medications will knock it out, this is not the case with the human immunodeficiency virus.
I remember going through sex education around 16 years of age. It was part of my health class and was a very small portion of the semester. The first thing that was an issue for me and continues to be an issue for kids around the country is the fact that you have to get your parents consent to be able to participate in this portion of the class. Now this might not seem like a big deal for some who have parents that are educated and might have already spoken with their kids about these kind of things. For others who grew up or are raised in conservative families ,it is a different story. These families might not think the information is going to be relevant because they truly believe in their minds that their kids are not having sex. This might be what they think but its certainly not what is happening. Wether parents want to admit it or not, kids are having sex as young as 12 years old now and earlier. I remember fellow classmates in the sixth grade who were already having sex believe it or not. Sex education is started far too late in an adolescents life, many are participating in sexual acts before hand. So what are the solutions to these two problems? Well, ALL kids as a matter of public health safety should have to participate in sex education, it should not be an “optional” course. Even if a kid is not currently having sex when they go through the course, they need the tools to be able make correct decisions if they do make that choice to engage in sex. These courses should also be started far earlier than the Sophomore year of high school, in my opinion sex education should be started in the 7th grade and reinforced with a secondary follow up class in high school. Having a two part sex education program would assure us that the kids have the correct information and can utilize it to the best of their abilities.
Another issue is how HIV/AIDS is being taught in the classroom. Many times AIDS is the main thing that is focussed on when going over the STDS and multiple photos are shown of opportunistic infections which gives kids the false sense that they will be able to tell if someone has something wrong with them. Too much focus and emphasis is put on the stages of HIV infection while ignoring the fact that many go asymptomatic for a long period of time with no outwardly signs of an infection. Don’t get me wrong the beginning stages of HIV are talked about however when you compare it to the end stages, it is a very brief summary to say the least.
The majority of the time if someone is HIV + or at the stage of an AIDS diagnosis, no one would know the difference unless that person told someone. We can’t see what is inside the body of another person. There needs to be a strong focus on the HIV infection itself, the virus that causes AIDS, and how a perfectly healthy appearing person could in fact be HIV + . This is something very important because we need to stop this way of thinking that we will be able to tell if somebody has something, no actually you cannot. Unless someone has an OI it is extremely difficult and even then someone might not recognize that as being related to HIV/AIDS.
Also the fact that schools are teaching kids the “high risk categories” does nothing for the HIV/AIDS activism cause except add to ignorance and the stigma surrounding the virus. There is absolutely no reason to be telling kids well the highest risk groups are iv drug users, gay men, or prostitutes. What good does that do ? That just makes kids who aren’t in those categories interpret it in a sense that they are in no risk at all. If we want to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic we need to stop trying to put all these high risk faces to it and realize that it is a human race issue, not any particular individual. We are all at risk and our kids need to be aware of that as well.
Treatment is another issue that needs to be brought up in schools. In my sex education class the only reference to HIV treatment I remember seeing was a short video of a HIV + male taking 25 + pills a day in the late 1990’s just to stay alive, a very outdated video for the year 2006 if you ask me. I have heard that the schools that are teaching treatment and how it can help people with HIV, are downscaling it so kids are under the impression that it is the same as diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, ext… Taking a pill and living a healthy life. Although those of us who are infected have this option, we know it is not this easy. The medicine is very strong and has serious side effects on the body. These need to be discussed with kids and letting them know while those who are positive do have these pills, it is not an easy road to go down and the reality of living with HIV/AIDS needs to be shown.
The biggest problem to our sex education system in schools is that everything is far to “by the book” so to say. Many kids think it is a fun way to get out of “real education” for a week or so and not have to do any homework except look at some pictures of some things they normally wouldn’t. They might have to ask their parents a couple of questions but besides that, something to pass the time and maybe get a couple of laughs at photos of nude body parts with friends. Kids are not connecting what they are reading in their text books to the real world and everyday life. If someone like myself or someone who is positive goes in to speak with them and let them know that this is a very real thing and it can happen to anyone, it would change there outlook on things. Thankfully many activists are taking this step which is starting to change the way kids look at this virus. I soon hope to be getting involved in speeches at middle schools, high schools, and colleges so I can let people know that HIV is here. I am not someone who looks sick nor someone who falls into these major categories people think of when talking about HIV/AIDS. Kids need to be able to relate and put a face to what they are reading, without that face, all that is attempted to be taught in good intentions is null and void.
Our kids deserve a better education and the system is in desperate need to be reformed. I hope that schools will take a serious look at changing these systems and also allowing activist like myself to speak up so we can save our future generation. The children of the world are watching what our next step will be and in my opinion we need to start taking steps in the right direction for the good of all mankind.
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