Growing up in the sixties and seventies was great. It was a time of great innocence which nonetheless managed to feel very naughty. Free love was in the air, contraception was advancing, and it seemed like consequence-free recreational sex really could become a reality. Then along came the eighties, and brought us back to earth with a bump. Though the pandemic originated in the 1920s, HIV/AIDS only really began to make an impact and be properly understood in the 1980s. The sexual revolution was brought down mid-flight, and sex became scary once again. HIV in those days was a death sentence. Worse, it was a death sentence with a lot of stigma attached. Since the 1980s two entire generations have reached maturity with the strict mantra that ‘unprotected sex might kill you’ drummed into their heads over and over again. However, times have once again changed. New pandemics and political issues have hit the spotlight, and HIV/AIDS is becoming – silly though it sounds – commonplace. The up and coming generation are in danger of complacency regarding HIV/AIDS, and while it’s good for kids not to fear sex, getting complacent about this very real issue is not a good direction for society to head in.
Thanks to advances in medical science, being diagnosed with HIV in the West does not necessarily mean that you’re going to die. The condition is manageable if one takes the right drugs, and a lot of work has been done to reduce the terrible stigma which still surrounds HIV/AIDS. This is not to say, however, that it has become an issue to be treated lightly. AIDS still claims lives. In 2010, years after the ‘antiretroviral revolution’, 680 British people died from HIV/AIDS, and concerns were raised about the number of people who may have the condition without even knowing it. However, even if HIV/AIDS were the harmless infection that many appear to think it now is, getting complacent would still be a cause for concern. Authorities in America were shocked to find that almost 40% of new HIV/AIDS cases occurred among the 15-24 age group. While these young people can be treated with antiretroviral drugs, the statistic demonstrates the dangers of complacency. If people simply don’t realize the dangers of unprotected sex, this infection – which has been slowly knuckling under to human pressure (even in the developing world) – could easily get out of control again.
There is still no cure for HIV/AIDS. This raises some very worrying concerns regarding expansion of the viral pool. If the virus is allowed to spread unchecked through a wide swathe of the human population, the potential for it to mutate beyond the checking capacity of current retroviral drugs increases incrementally. Just last year scientists warned that the virus has shown signs of adapting to work with the new world in which it finds itself, and the more it manages to spread itself around, the more chance it has to build up strength and mutate beyond our control. HIV/AIDS has already demonstrated itself capable of ripping like wildfire through the human population – we really cannot allow it the opportunity to muster any strength and assault us again the way it did in the eighties.
Teenagers will, of course, be teenagers. Everyone knows that there is little that can stop a hormonal teen from having sex if they want to. The best we can do is teach them about consent, about knowing when you’re ready, about not allowing anyone to pressure you before it’s time, and about safe sex. Worryingly, however, teenagers are increasingly using free internet porn as an educational rather than a recreational tool. Internet porn teaches some concerning lessons regarding safe sex. Condoms, for example, rarely if ever feature. Pornography is an excellent recreational tool – if you already know about real sex. If, like most young teenagers, you do not, then it provides a worrying ad-hoc sex education which has a great many concerning implications for the sexual health of the next generation. Complacency about HIV/AIDS combined with a generalized disregard for sexual health creates a perfect storm in which the virus can be transmitted and run riot. In the absence of a vaccine, we really need to step up our efforts to make the importance of safe sex in general and condom use in particular absolutely clear to our children – for their own sake, and ours.
This is a freelance article by Gemma Dobson