Monday, December 2, 2013

AIDS is still a thing

This Thanksgiving, I chose to sit at the kids' table with my cousins, as I usually have for the past twentyish years or so. Though they are all between six and twelve years younger than I, my cousins are like my sisters and I love to spend time with them. They are smart and interesting and funny and wonderful (and - if I'm being honest - a lot easier to impress than grown-ups, which is a pleasant ego boost).

One of them is in high school right now. She knows that I'm interested in sex ed, so she told me about ASPEN, a program for high school students that raises HIV/AIDS awareness, et cetera. Evidently her school had just devoted a week to engaging students in safer sex education games in advance of World AIDS Day, which was December 1st. My cousin played a game and won a mint-flavored condom. Telling me that made her giggle, which is the appropriate reaction for a 15-year-old, and really for anyone who is given a mint-flavored condom. Hopefully it wasn't spearmint, because spearmint is terrible.

Also terrible: AIDS still devastates other parts of the world, and there are 50,000 new cases of HIV every year in America. And unprotected sex, especially dangerous among young gay men, is on the rise.
What twenty-year-old man, enjoying his first moments of sexual adventure, is going to be scared because, ten years before he was born, people like me saw gay men writhe and vomit and die on the streets where he now stands?
People my age don't remember the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. We don't know anyone (we think) with HIV; unlike Michael Specter of the New Yorker, we haven't watched friends die by the dozens.

We may feel invincible, but we are not. It's so important to remain vigilant; to champion medically accurate, comprehensive, inclusive sex education; to fund free HIV tests; and to hand condoms out to high school and college students, even if they blush and laugh about it.

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