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 is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be transmitted from someone who has HIV to another person through certain sexual behaviours. 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 acquires 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 living with HIV. It’’s essential to provide young people with medically accurate and age-appropriate information so that they can be supportive of people living with HIV or if they have HIV, so that they have the information that they need to lead healthy lives. .
Even though most people don’t like to talk about HIV, it is important for caring adults to talk with young people about HIV transmission,prevention, and treatment 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, the people they care about, 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 acquiring HIV once sexually active by getting tested for HIV, properly and consistently using latex barriers, like male or female condoms and dental dams every time they have sex, and decreasing the number of sexual partners,. 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 STI testing and treatment is offered through clinics and health centers. Home testing kits are now available in most major pharmacies as well. HIV testing often involves either a simple blood test or a mouth swab. Young people should understand that HIV can be treated with medicines provided by a doctor, but that there is no cure for HIV.
Young people may also have questions about a medicine called PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a daily pill that can be prescribed to help reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. In studies it has been shown to be highly effective when used properly. This medication is often prescribed for individuals who are considered to be at particularly high risk of 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 chores, watching TV together, or walking or driving.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:
Broach the topic when there is a sex scene in a show or movie.
For example, if a sex scene comes up on TV, there is an opportunity to talk about whether the partners talked about safer sex or used a latex barrier, like a condom or dental dam. While you may be nervous about having these conversations, a simple, “Wow, do you think they’re worried about STIs or HIV?” is one way to start the conversation.
Walk up the aisle where condoms are when you’re shopping in a pharmacy
If you are shopping together in the market or pharmacy, walk up the aisle where the condoms are located and ask your child if they know what condoms are and how they are used. Purchase a pack to take home and open so your child can see what they look like and how they are used.