My friends Shawn and Gwenn began a joint career in 2000, educating teens and young adults about HIV and sexual health (Shawn is HIV positive; Gwenn is not). We met for coffee this week and talked about how the sexual health conversation has changed.
I learned that:
- AIDS and HIV has become much less interesting to college campuses and other likely audiences; since AIDS patients manage the virus with a series of pharmaceuticals, the reputation of the virus has changed from that of a killer, to a “managed condition.” This is a false sense of security as people with AIDS are still at much higher risk of dying from a broad array of related causes, and is dangerous since it can lead to unsafe practices and spread of the virus.
- Audiences (and the schools that fund them) are more interested in a broader sexual health conversation than focusing on HIV/AIDS. This opens potential new opportunities for the couple, particularly with the introduction of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine from Merck.
- Sometimes, Shawn and Gwenn’s message isn’t welcome. Sometimes, there are pockets of denial; “our students aren’t having sex!” or groups that think that they’ve had all the sexual health education they need. That’s not really new, but has a resurgence when the country shifts to the right and has a stronghold in certain geographic areas. (No one has sex in the Bible belt, right?)
I’m interested, of course, in how students who are digital natives are learning; my guess is after friends, YouTube is a top educator. I’m not sure, as a parent, that I want my kids’ sexual health education to come from un-vetted sources (although I’m aware that has been the trend since sex itself became popular).
Shawn, also an author (My Pet Virus), has adopted social media outreach since before we even had definitions for it; a blogger back when blogging was “live journaling,” Shawn has successfully reached MANY living with AIDS or young couples with HIV positive diagnoses in their relationships. Adopters, too, of Facebook and Twitter, the couple makes their message available in all the channels where they can be found for those who may be searching.
There’s no substitute, however, for the message being delivered in person. A sponsor to make it possible for the couple to appear before more students nationwide would help extend safe sexual practices and hopefully, prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, improving the futures of a generation.
What other ways have you heard the conversation change about AIDS, HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases? As a parent, how will your kids get the sexual health information they need? As an adult, where did your education come from? Was it correct, or sufficient?