AIDS and HIV have been hot topics over the last year—particularly after the release of films like Dallas Buyers Club and The Normal Heart—but a new study shows that teens may think of the disease as a thing of the past: Nine out of 10 don’t believe they’re at risk of contracting it in their lifetime. And that perception? It’s just dead wrong.
The MAC AIDS Fund just released findings from its study on teen attitudes toward HIV and AIDS…and the results are more than a little alarming. A whopping 88% of American teens think they aren’t at risk of getting HIV, even though 60% of the of sexually active teenagers surveyed said they’ve done the deed at least once without a condom.
We’re having a hard time wrapping our heads around the logic on that one: Any time you have sex without a condom, you’re not only throwing caution to the wind in the pregnancy department, but you’re also opening yourself up to STDs, STIs, and yes, HIV. If that’s not a good reason to use a condom, then we don’t know what is (actually, we’ve got a lot of good reasons—check them out here).
That wasn’t the only freak-out-worthy finding from the study. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the United States every year, and almost half of the people diagnosed are between the ages 15 and 24. To put it another way: It could be you. And since one-third of the teens surveyed said that if they found out they had HIV they wouldn’t tell anyone, practicing safe sex is more important than ever.
Generationally, the survey does show some positive progress around the perception and factual understanding of AIDS. But we’ve still got a long way to go: Only a little more than half of teens said that they would treat a friend or classmate with HIV normally, while 50% said they would be afraid of someone with AIDS or HIV, and 47% said they wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who had the disease.
The good news? Millennials are definitely interested in making this whole situation better. Fifty-nine percent of survey-takers saw the connection between education and prevention, while at least 71% have had conversations about AIDS with people in their lives, pointing to school as a primary place to talk about it. And 55% emphasized the importance of regular testing—which is great, though we’d love to see that number continue to rise!
Speaking of which…summer is the perfect time to go get tested, since you’ve got all that extra time on your hands. Or if you’d rather wait ’til you’re back at school, on-campus healthcare facilities should provide testing for college students, and you can always go to Planned Parenthood for free confidential STI and STD testing (which, by the way, you should be doing every six months, especially if you have multiple partners).
Maybe you find yourself a tad intimidated about the whole testing thing? Gather a couple of girlfriends—chances are they’re due for a test, too—and go together. It isn’t just important for your health (though make no mistake, it definitely is); it’s an empowering way to take ownership of your body and sexual choices.