The initials HIV and the acronym AIDS are often used together leading people to believe they are the same thing when in reality they are different. HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS, and AIDS is the illness that can occur later when the immune system is no longer able to fight off infections like it is supposed to. HIV can be transmitted from one infected person to another through certain sexual behaviors. Despite many myths that exist, the truth is that not all bodily fluids transmit HIV. The bodily fluids that can transmit HIV are semen, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk.
When someone first gets infected with HIV they usually do not show any symptoms. This is why getting tested regularly is important. If someone is tested and they do have HIV there are many medications that can help treat the symptoms of HIV and allow someone to live a healthy, symptom-free life for many years.
It is common for young people to hear many myths about HIV, so having a trusted adult in their lives that they can talk to about this topic is important. There is also a lot of stigma around having HIV, so it is essential to provide young people with medically accurate and age-appropriate information on this topic.
It important for caring adults to talk with young people about HIV transmission and prevention, before they begin engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner. While it is good to normalize HIV and STIs, it is also important to be clear with young people about how HIV and STIs can affect them and why it is important to practice safer sex.
Before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors, they should know how they can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by decreasing their number of sexual partners, getting tested before sexual activity and properly and consistently using latex barriers, like condoms, female (internal) condoms and dental dams. Research shows that young people whose parents talked to them about condoms before they began having sex are more likely to use condoms at first intercourse and thereafter.
It’s also very helpful for young people to know how to get tested once they begin having sex. HIV and other STD testing and treatment is offered through your family doctor or at most family planning clinics and community health centers. Home testing kits are now available in most major pharmacies as well. HIV testing involves a simple blood test. Young people should understand that HIV can be treated with medicines provided by a doctor, but there is no cure for HIV.
Talking about HIV with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and they can come to their parents or guardians when they have questions or need support.
If you start essential conversations about topics like HIV with your children, then they will know they can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they arise in everyday life while you are doing things like watching TV together. Symptoms, testing and condoms may not just come up in conversation, but it is important to talk about these issues.
Here are some ways to start these conversations: