I grew up in South Florida, and starting in middle school, students were offered, but not required to participate in, a week of learning about sexual health. That was when I first encountered her. I don’t remember her name, and I vaguely remember her face. What I do remember, is her story.

She was young, a teenager, when she was diagnosed with AIDs. It wasn’t HIV, it was full-blown AIDs. She received this diagnosis in the late 80’s, early 90’s, when it was still a taboo subject. The only people who contracted AIDs, according to the media, were prostitutes and gay people. The men, yes, men, who had brutally raped her, were spending their lives behind bars, she said. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t walking around without the scars from the abuse. She not only had to recover from the mental trauma, but she had to battle a physical illness, everyday. She was lucky though. Her children both tested negative.

After hearing her story, I have dutifully made sure to get tested periodically. Not many people are willing to subject themselves to an STD screening, though. It is believed, at least where I am from, that if you need to get tested, you must be extremely promiscuous, and you are frowned upon.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that almost 1.2 people living in the United States are living with HIV infection, or AIDS. Twenty one percent of the Americans living with HIV, or AIDS right now, are unaware they are infected. In 2009, it is estimated that 42,000 people were diagnosed with HIV infection, in 40 of the 50 states. Those are some scary numbers.

Are we ready for scarier numbers? Let’s move on to geography, race, and sexuality.

In 2007, of the estimated 35,962 new AIDS diagnoses, 46% were in the south. Florida is third in cumulative AIDs diagnoses, as of 2009.

In 2009, African Americans represented approximately 44% of new HIV infection diagnoses. Latinos represented about 20%.

Homosexual men accounted for about 61%.

I’m not here to freak you out. Well, I sort of am.

I’m really here to remind everyone to do their research! Getting tested doesn’t take long, at all, and Planned Parenthood will do it for a discounted price. If you don’t know if there is a Planned Parenthood around, check out their website. They will tell you where their closest locations are, and what services they provide, although I have not found one that doesn’t offer STD screening. For college students, most universities offer health services, including STD screening, for real cheap.

What is the harm in knowing for sure? For an hour of your time, you could potentially save lives, including your own.

And always remember to practice safe sex! Use a condom. Don’t be pressured to not use one, by anyone. Anyone who refuses to wear a condom, or let you wear a condom, isn’t worth your time. Be prepared! Guys, keep one on hand, and girls, tuck one in your purse. It’s 2011, almost 2012. We should all be educated, and ready, at a moment’s notice.

For more information, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and Planned Parenthood’s website.

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