I am part of a generation that had plenty of unprotected sex in our youth, followed by many scares and HIV tests. It was hell waiting for the results every time. And I was very lucky that they all came back negative. But I have friends who were not so fortunate. A few, sadly, passed away in their twenties. Others survived and learned to live with their condition but couldn´t be open about it for fear of being stigmatized.
I was 22 when the actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS-related complications at 59. The vocalist Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991 of an AIDS-related illness. He was 45. I was 27. Those were sad and sobering moments. How close had I put myself to contracting the disease by not taking the necessary precautions? A lot of my friends and peers asked themselves the same question.
I watched Magic Johnson play at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 after he publicly announced that he was HIV positive. You have never seen so many camera flashes go off every time he dunked. Watching Magic play at a time when HIV was almost synonymous with death was life-changing. It gave us hope. If any of us ever contracted the disease, we didn´t have to die. But most importantly, we didn´t have to hide.
Now I am the mother of three kids, 14, 12, and 11. They will all have birthdays in a few months. The three of them know about my own scares. I have talked to them about STDs and HIV and have even shown them a condom and explained what it´s for and how it works. My philosophy is that if they are old enough to hear it from the news or their friends, they are old enough to get the information from me first-hand.
I believe an informed child is better prepared to handle a situation where a split-second decision could change their life. I´ve told my kids that even though they may not consider this now, one day someone may tell them, let´s not use protection, it´s only this one time, what are the chances, or I´m fine … And they will be tempted to go along with that. The combination of the heat of the moment and youth can make for poor decisions.
But if they anticipate this moment, they can play the scenario out in their heads, and the day they hear those words they will remember mine. As a mother, I have no control over what they do in the future, but I can equip them with the knowledge and tools that may help them make the best decisions for themselves.
Also read: My close call with HIV, raising awareness
Unfortunately not everyone is as blunt and open as I am. I know that many parents struggle with having this conversation. The Latino community as a whole still stigmatizes HIV. Homosexual men are the hardest hit by it. In order to encourage you to have this conversation with your kids, friends and family, consider these harsh statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).
- Youths aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 26% of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010.
- Over 50% of youths with HIV in the United States do not know they are infected
- More than 250,000 Latinos in the United States are living with HIV.
- In 2013, 23% of new diagnoses of HIV infections in the United States occurred among Hispanics/Latinos.
- A number of challenges may contribute to why HIV isn’t discussed among Hispanic/Latino communities, including cultural barriers, stigma, and discrimination.
- Studies have found that many in the community do not talk about HIV risk, prevention, or testing.
- Even when Hispanics/Latinos are ready to discuss HIV, many do not have all the knowledge they need to have informed conversations with their family, friends or children.
- Research has shown that talking about HIV and AIDS is associated with more knowledge about HIV prevention, more condom use, and increased HIV testing, all of which are associated with fewer new HIV infections.
How you can have a conversation about HIV
We all have a role to play. We can stop HIV one conversation at a time. Together, all of our conversations can help protect the health of our community and reduce the spread of HIV. Join us in stopping HIV One Conversation at a Time.
This post is made possible with support from the We Can Stop HIV One Conversation at a Time campaign. All opinions are my own.