This country has a history of failure regarding HIV and AIDS prevention education. The government got a way late start in deciding how to react to AIDS initially and then how to educate the public about it. AIDS became a global epidemic (pandemic) in 1981. While the government failed to fund education efforts, only 18 states had mandated some AIDS education by July 1987, according to the Congressional report, “Continuing Jeopardy: Children and AIDS”. (9). It took almost ten years before the federal government began funding programs targeting youth HIV infection prevention in earnest. Congress fumbled over itself in making statements about the need to curb the growth in AIDS cases, but did little to stop it. It took the Congress some time before they even admitted that AIDS was not a gay-specific disease, and even longer to accept the testimony that children and teenagers were being infected. Congressman George Miller of California even stated, in reference to AIDS education for pre-teens and sexually active teenagers, that “adults have a hell of a problem with all of these words.” (94).
Congressmen, parents, teachers, and policy makers still have a problem with some of the words related to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. As I’ve explained via my web page, swiftsite.com/danden, the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted to the human body through contact with infected bodily fluids. This means that sex is not the only way for people to get AIDS! The five fluids that are often mentioned are: 1) semen (a combination of sperm and fluids); 2) vaginal secretions; 3) blood and blood components; 4) cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF), found in the brain and the spinal cord; [After severe head injuries, some people may have CSF, which is clear, ooze out of their nose or ears, etc.], and 5) breast milk.
For example, HIV is commonly transmitted by people having unprotected sex, but also by medical professionals & infants who come in contact with infected body fluids (from an infected mother’s placenta, or during birth) and also by people sharing needles used to inject illegal drugs. However, in some countries, people are still receiving blood transfusions, tainted with HIV, during surgery, etc. Medical professionals sometimes become infected through coming in contact with infected body fluids. This may happen, for example, during an emergency, while helping someone without wearing proper protection (gloves, face masks, etc.). Also, sometimes patients become belligerent--either because of head trauma, alcohol/drugs, psychological problems, or plain meanness and spit at health care workers or prick them with needles, or other tools already in contact with their blood. Some medical folks have also mistakenly stabbed themselves with HIV-infected needles or I.V. catheters, etc. (García, Daniel in the Lion’s Den).
There are several barriers that keep HIV/AIDS prevention education for teenagers from being successful. Most notably HIV/AIDS education comes in the form of sex education in public schools. Abstinence programs focus primarily on morals, values, and a “just say no to sex” attitude. However, it is important to note that abstinence programs of higher quality have been becoming more successful at changing teen’s attitudes and behaviors about sex. In fact Citizen Link Magazine, recently reported a rise in popularity of abstinence programs and a “dramatic increase in sexually abstinent teens”, (1). Most abstinence programs now are replacing “just say no to sex” with sound moral and sexual values. However, little is included on HIV education in most abstinence programs for fear of overstepping parents’s rights to speak to their children about sex. So even though abstinence programs are the most qualified and likely candidates to reach teens with a sound message against premarital and unsafe sex, many of them are the biggest barriers to HIV education in public schools.
Parents and religious leaders who are pro-abstinence education often cannot separate sex-related matters, safe sex issues—which they don’t believe in—and AIDS matters. Congressman Dan Coats spoke more than ten years ago about the problem people have separating morality from health when dealing with AIDS. He said during a hearing of the Select Committee On Children, Youth, and Families (“AIDS and Teenagers”) in 1987: “I just think we all ought to be searching for a way to deliver the message. I think we have an obligation. I’m not talking about from a moral standpoint here. I’m talking from a public health standpoint, to make sure that our young people get the message that abstinence is, from a public health standpoint, the only sure way they can avoid AIDS.” (116). His point was well made. Yet one thing he overlooked, as do many abstinence only proponents and misinformed teenagers do is the fact that sexual abstinence does not guarantee freedom from HIV infection, as I’ve pointed out. But it would have been a good start, which went ignored, and which pushed aside open discussion on AIDS, because it was too touchy of a subject for pro-abstinence policy-makers.
In contrast, most conventional sex education curriculums focus on sex, the reproductive system, and so-called family planning. They talk about safe or safer sex, and alternative lifestyles, and the like. However, they are not successful in changing teens’s attitudes and behaviors regarding sexual activity. In fact, Congress passed a law in 1988 making it illegal for the Centers For Disease Control to fund programs which promoted or encouraged “directly, homosexual activities,” which is a function of some of the conventional sex education programs which do include “alternative” family discussions and homosexual rights topics, according to the book, Confronting AIDS. (66). Until then, the CDC had been funding them, and even with the law in place, sex educators have found ways around the it. Also, there is not enough of a focus on AIDS either, since the focus is on population control. Further, most of their “safe sex” methods are sorely lacking in practicality and truth.
What is conventional, comprehensive (safe) sex education all about? According to Christian-based organization, Focus On the Family’s online report, “A Case For Abstinence Education”, advocates of safe sex have an ideology based on the following premises: Teenagers should be provided with complete sexuality information, including contraception options; most teens will be sexually active, so communities should provide them access to practice safe sex; teenagers are “sexually autonomous” and should make up their own minds about sex; “Parental authority has no role in teen sexuality. Unmarried sexuality is not subject to values or issues of personal character.”; it’s acceptable and safe for teens to practice “outercourse, mutual masturbation, oral sex,” etc. This is also a way for teens to “retain sexual purity.” The consequences of teen sex are what’s important, not teen sex itself. (2). Unfortunately, little is available to contradict this article. In fact, according to testimony before Congress during a hearing before the Select Committee On Children, Youth, and Families dealing with “The Risky Business of Adolescence”, it was reported that Planned Parenthood, who puts out lots of sex education curriculums for public schools, admitted that, “Prior exposure to a sex education course is positively and significantly associated with the initiation of sexual activity at ages 15 and 16.” (107).
The more vociferous organizations who are advocates of safe sex are Planned Parenthood and SEICUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.) The Planned Parenthood home on the web is filled with links to what one assumes will be actual HIV/AIDS prevention education. However, most of their education deals with condom use, contraception use, and abortion issues. These people are not concerned about the prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS. Planned Parenthood, in particular seems to be about removing parents from any decisions teens make on sex, as well as promoting sexual activity—because their practices such as providing contraception and abortions for teens without parental consent (whenever legal) encourages sexual promiscuity and sexual liberation of teens. The most powerful comprehensive (safe) sex education advocates have it as a goal to not only sexually liberate teenagers, but to control world population, especially among the poor in the United States. Sadly, comprehensive sex education advocates have very strong lobbying wings, which often help take teen health backwards. However, these same types of organizations often receive funding from the federal government, such as the CDC. Through these grants they develop curriculums and go into the public school with little to say about HIV/AIDS, aside from offering free testing, which actually increases their funding, according to HIV/AIDS educator Joe Arellano, of Texas. Safe sex curriculums are still very prevalent. (Interview, Arellano). In fact until the recent popularity of abstinence only education, this was the only option for schools.
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