Last year, I wrote an article for World AIDS Day called I Remember a Time and Place When AIDS Did Not Exist and so I went back to read what I wrote before I sat down to write another article in recognition of this day.
I read it and I shed a few tears as I thought of my old family friend, lost to AIDS, about my daughter being a year older and a year closer to being sexually active and the fear that idea inspires in her mother.
Since last year, my daughter, who just turned 13, has not only been learning about AIDS/HIV in school, but has had to endure a discussion with her mother about a host of risks involved in becoming sexually active.
During our discussion I asked her what she thought was the worst thing that could happen from having sexual contact with another person. She said, “getting pregnant.”
Yes, getting pregnant would be tragic at her age and for several years to come, I told her, but death was really the worst thing that could happen. I said there were several infections and viruses that could be passed through unprotected sexual contact and that it was possible to die from HIV/AIDS. She acknowledged that she’d learned about it in school, but obviously it hadn’t the strong impression I would have preferred.
As I said last year, her exposure to HIV/AIDS is so much different than mine. Learning about HIV/AIDS was terrifying in the 80’s. So much was unknown, but what was known was if you got it, you died. The prospect of death got through to many kids who otherwise would have had unprotected sex. Not all, unfortunately, but many.
It’s not that simple anymore, people aren’t automatically sentenced to early death when infected and that’s great. That’s wonderful. I have friends living with the disease today (rather than dying from it) and I wouldn’t have it back the way it used to be.
But fear can be a powerful motivator and for a mom looking to make a strong impression upon her daughter about STI’s—the specter of death is a tempting assistant in convincing her to put off having sex until she’s prepared to handle it, emotionally, and has the wisdom and judgment to make smart choices.
Maybe that’s not the best parenting practice, not the best plan for raising a sex-positive person. But for a parent facing the prospect of severe illness or the death of their child from one incident of poor judgment (something parents know is all to common among teens) it’s a trade-off they can live with. Or, at least I can.
Ultimately, my hope is that recent advances will make having to teach a 12 year old about death as a part of her sexual education a thing of the past.
Today, I read something that made me believe that goal may be achieved sooner than I’d thought. Recent research for a drug called Truvada, shows the pill cut risk of infection by 73% in those who took it daily. It’s ridiculously expensive—of course. So is being treated for HIV/AIDS. For so long, we’ve been waiting and hoping for something that could prevent HIV infection, that elusive vaccine.
This might be a step in the direction toward that vaccine and at the very least, it could stop many people from being infected. It can save lives.
That gives me hope—hope that my daughter won’t even have to talk to her kids about HIV/AIDS—that it will become a part of our history, the way smallpox has… a dark part of our past that we learn about, but don’t have to be concerned with in our daily lives.