This piece originally published on Spread Hope: A Therapist’s Guide to Living and Laughing with HIV on TheBody.com
These kids today …
I feel so old just writing that, yet there is no more accurate statement, at least with regard to the topic of HIV/AIDS. When I came of age in the 90s, one of the many hooks we all sang was “Let’s Talk about Sex.” (by Salt-N-Pepa, the first all girl hip hop group … they also had a reality show for a few minutes, if that’s all you youngsters can relate to). And talk about sex we did. From condoms to girl power to HIV. All these concepts were blended together to form our overall vision of healthy sexual expression. It was almost impossible to talk about sex without inserting (pun intended) the word “safer” in front.
This was also a time of medical breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. New medications allowed people to live longer, healthier lives. The number of people dying from HIV/AIDS started to decrease drastically. People were making strides to be safer and the spread of HIV slowed down. The epidemic was losing momentum and America was taking a collective sigh of relief.
Fast forward to now. For a variety of reasons, the spread of HIV is seeing an upsurge. Safer sex is not as trendy as it once was. Abstinence only education has been revived. To talk about sex in any public forum is taboo again. The word “condom” is now categorized under dirty words. When did this happen? The pendulum has swung drastically in the opposite direction.
Seriously, this is very scary. Kids today are as sexually active as ever, yet the discussion of condoms does not come up as readily and simply as it once did. Are people using condoms? It’s not clear. In some cases, the answer is no. How many reality shows have had full episodes (along with the ever-dramatic cliff hanger) dedicated to a pregnancy scare? Case in point, the queen of reality TV, Snooki, is now pregnant. Clearly there was no use of safer sex practices with that sexual fluid exchange. And really, there are whole series dedicated to teen moms. What about the STI risk? The risk of HIV? Is pregnancy the new trend? Oh, please no … Make it stop!
In my professional life, I’ve been conducting trainings on all things HIV/AIDS for years now. My main focus of the trainings I conduct is to discuss with fellow Social Workers and counselors what it means to work with a client who is living with HIV/AIDS. I do a basic overview of HIV, prevention, treatment, and also discuss the culture of living with HIV and some of the special concerns with this unique community.
Each year that goes by, I feel as if the information I am presenting becomes more and more foreign to the audience. My field is becoming full of younger counselors, which is bringing a new level of energy and vibrancy. At the same time, they seem to be more and more disconnected to the world of HIV/AIDS. Even the basic facts regarding HIV/AIDS are not so basic anymore.
I’m not exactly sure what’s up with this. Is it due to the resurgence of Abstinence Only Education in many of our country’s school systems? Is it due to HIV/AIDS becoming a chronic disease and therefore losing some of its “scary” nature? No matter the reasons why HIV has gone into the shadows of education, the time has come to bring it back into light. We all have an obligation to continue to talk about HIV/AIDS within every context. My fellow Social Workers and other helping professionals need to own this obligation even more. All of our clients are touched by HIV/AIDS in one way or another. We all need to recognize this and treat each client through this lens.
I will continue to teach the youngsters of my field of the realities of HIV/AIDS. My goal is to fill in the gaps that seem to be the result of antiquated sex education and over-exposure to reality TV. It’s a lofty goal indeed, yet I will not stop striving to reach it.
To read this article on TheBody.com, please click here.