All Grown Up With HIV
by Cristina González
Thirty years into the epidemic, a new crop of kids faces adulthood—with HIV. From babies born with the virus to teens who acquired it behaviorally, members of this new generation struggle to navigate survival while making their way through the world. The stories of these four brave young people are examples for how to succeed in spite of HIV. They also serve as cautionary tales, reminding us of the price we pay for not teaching our children well. Let lessons be learned.
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The headline-making National Survey of Family Growth, released this year by the federal government, reported that teenage abstinence was on the rise—from 22 percent in 2002 to about 28 percent by 2008. But the media coverage buried the lead: Seven out of 10 people in their late teens and early 20s are having sex.
This might not be an issue if many of them weren’t having unsafe sex. But they are, in droves. Philadelphia, for example, has the highest rate of teen sexual activity in the country—and the lowest rate of condom use.
It should come as no surprise then that Philadelphia also has the nation’s fifth highest teen HIV rate. The story is repeated all over the country. In Tennessee the number of people ages 15 to 24 who were newly infected with HIV jumped 32 percent between 2005 and 2009. Overall, Americans between ages 13 and 20 comprise 34 percent of the country’s new HIV infections. Globally, people younger than 25 account for more than half of all new HIV cases.
As long as we deny that kids are having sex and refuse to teach comprehensive sex ed, offering instead abstinence-only or abstinence-until-marriage, kids will remain powerless to protect themselves while gripped by raging hormones. You don’t need a degree from the Harvard School of Public Health to foresee the consequences to individual and public health.
When we teach kids not to have sex in order to protect their virginity, the message often comes through as, “You can do anything except put a penis in a vagina.” As a result, many young people have oral and anal sex, often unprotected, in the name of abstinence. Others, lacking any sex or HIV education at all, see no reason to put on a condom (similarly, they don’t know the risks in sharing injection drug equipment). Add these practices to the incidence of sexual abuse of young people, and you have a recipe for an HIV epidemic.
Other kids are growing up with HIV—those who contracted HIV in utero, at birth or through breast feeding from their HIV-positive mothers. While mother-to-child transmission has been nearly eliminated in the United States, there are a fair number of survivors who were born with the virus.
All these young people face similar challenges: learning to discuss and disclose HIV while developing social skills; dealing with HIV stigma while striving for self-esteem and self-empowerment; committing to the responsibility of daily treatment at a time of carefree youth; being accountable for their health and the health of others while they are still developing a sense of responsibility; and facing mortality at an age when feeling invincible is the norm. On top of this, they face the additional challenges of anyone living with HIV: handling the diagnosis of a serious and lifelong disease; finding, getting to, paying for and tolerating care and treatment; negotiating personal and family relationships in the face of HIV; dealing with mental health issues; and fighting stigma, discrimination and fear.
What is amazing is how well many young people deal with HIV. The first-person accounts of the strong, brave, smart “kids” on the next pages show that with the right attitude, the right support system and connection to care and treatment, growing up with HIV doesn’t have to rob kids—and society as a whole—of the glories of youth.
Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Search: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, New York, Indianapolis, National Survey of Family Growth, abstinence, sex education, Perinatally Infected, iChoose2live, LGBT, Red Cross
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comments 1 - 11 (of 11 total)
AquaScriptLess, Michigan, 2012-03-06 21:16:17
What an eye-opener that other people have the same story as me. I relate more with the 1st story. I also grew up HIV and just like his grandmother, my dad was overprotective, sheltered and taught me disclosing was bad. Here I am today 26 yrs old and still I'm insecure, scared, closed off and scared to step out of my shell. It's a 50/50 chance that a kid will grow up OK with traditional parents. There should also be education 2 parents as well, it needs 2 start there before kids can get educated.
barb, seattle, 2011-11-08 12:20:15
poz 33 years in january. as my daughter did for 20 years..EAT LIFE! I'm Inspired and thanks for coming out and taking up the banner. God Bless Ya, Barb
Carrie, south bend, IN, 2011-10-02 23:47:54
I LOVE THIS STORY! the whole first part of him growing up sounds JUST like me. i was also born with hiv. i have been living with it for 23 years now. i also did not know i had hiv as a child. and when i found out i wasnt actually "told" i heard a doctor say it and i looked at my mom and said what???? and she looked at me with such fear. and i was NEVER talked about it ever.i was horrible as a teen.me at 23 im still not okay with my status but im trying to become at peace everyday.
want2changetheworld, Cleveland, 2011-09-26 10:23:45
I love the articles. Its exactly what we need in order to prevent and spread the word not the disease. I was recently diagnosed and I'm proud to say it has not turned my heart cold or made me bitter. I don't want to hurt anyone else I want to protect and by me seeing a lot of bad people who have become bitter and passing the disease around I truley thank God that that is not me. I would love to be apart of POZ magazine. Maybe even POZ TV
Anusha Alikhan, , 2011-09-12 12:33:28
I recently blogged about this article on Conversations for a Better world, a youth community for raising global issues and finding solutions, sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund-
We would love to have more young people join and share their opinions towards building a better world together.
Bautlwatsi Gaeelwe, Gaborone, 2011-09-09 04:04:07
A lot has changed in my life recently,tesed HIV positive in January this year and from there onwards been living positively.now looking lovely than before even though im not on any medication.
Robert T. Jenkins, South Suburban Chicago, 2011-08-19 19:01:36
So much has gone on in the past 10 years. That is how long I have been HIV positive. Right now, I am a 40-year-old Black, gay, male living in one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the U.S. So much of the ignorance that was a big part of life during my teenage years is still a part of life today. I am very glad to read this article and see that there are young people attempting to pull us out of the dark ages of ignorance--I commend the writer and those written about.
lukubaga.denis, kampala, 2011-08-19 13:24:50
wawu its a very good support to those with HIV POSITIVE we thank you Rena for that ,but the advise i have is to leave health and positive leaving,I love. you all of you
justin ligreci, NYC, 2011-08-18 10:00:48
KUDOS to the young men and women snapshot-ted in this story. And also to Cristina González, for writing the piece.
Young, positive people have such extraordinary challenges to overcome it's a testament to how far we've come and how much further we still have to go.
Gary K., Brooklyn, 2011-08-18 08:56:08
David your courage and perseverance will pay off. You are a remarkable young man and am proud to have you in my (LGBT)chosen family. You have brought joy and intellectual conversation to us all.
Frederick Wright, southern California, 2011-08-16 14:51:46
comments 1 - 11 (of 11 total)
Yes, thank God, what a strong and courage young man and very handsome too. I am always so thankful to God when I hear a story of a such power in a person life to over come the trama of our sociaity in his truthful expereinces for truth I believe always overcomes the haters. Stay strong Layfette, be joyful, live, love and yes.. have some great sex too... for a Cure is on it's way and my GOD make it so.