Today is World AIDS Day... again. Another year has gone by, and it seems like we have become even more complacent. As a girl who began her career in the sexuality field as a 15 year old HIV/AIDS educator, I cannot let this day pass without acknowledging how HIV has shaped my life.
I am pretty sure that I would not have the career that I have today if it had not been for the AIDS epidemic. In the early 1990s, my parents helped to institute peer education programs and raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness for students, parents, and community leaders. My parents ushered me into a world of sex education. They put condoms on bananas at our dinner table in order to teach us about safer sex (long before my sister and I would have ever considered having any kind of sex). The fact is, if my parents hadn't sent us the message that sexual health was important, I might not be the person I am today.
So I suppose it is necessary to ask the questions: If HIV is preventable, why are there over 56,000 new infections in this country every year? Why is it that red ribbons are only worn on December 1st -- or occasionally to the Academy Awards? Why do we continue to think that HIV/AIDS is a problem for other countries, but not our own? Is HIV not stylish unless talked about in the context of its global implications?
Don't get me wrong. The global AIDS epidemic is one that can keep me up at night. But I am concerned for my students. I am worried about what is going on in our backyards. I am worried about how my teenagers perceive their risks and how they plan on reducing those risks.
For those of us who came of age when HIV and AIDS was top of mind, sex always included condoms. (Still does.). HIV testing was a rite of passage for a person who became sexually active in a post-HIV world. (Still is.) It is impossible to be sexually healthy if you don't get tested and encourage your partners (and friends) to do so as well.
I often speak with my friend, Regan Hofmann, the fearless editor of POZ magazine, about the problem with perceived "HIV manageability." Sure, HIV is hardly the death sentence it once was, however, there is no doubt that we should be taking the necessary precautions to avoid contracting it. Which is why it is always so surprising when I am sent articles about the deliberate recklessness in which some people engage in sex.
Is it really so hard to buy a box of condoms? Is it so hard to pop a Trojan into your pocketbook or your pocket on the way out for the evening? Is it really so hard to ask someone who you are willing to let inside of your body to use a condom? Imagine a nurse walking over to the biohazard box in order to retrieve a needle to draw our blood. Would we ever let that hypodermic near us? So why is it so different with sex? Today, like most days, I ponder this.
So to Regan, my HIV-infected and HIV-affected friends, and all the other champions in the HIV prevention world, I salute you. And to all of you style mavens out there; my red ribbon will forever go with everything.