By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When it comes to sexual health, there’s a lot to learn. Most people received the sex talk or some sort of equivalent during middle school or high school health class. They probably learned about sexually transmitted diseases (STD), memorized the information for the test and moved on. But there’s lot of information out there, and with that information comes some misconceptions about certain STDs.
One of the most known STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted illnesses) as they’ve become known as is the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. According to Advert.org, it is believed that HIV began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 1920s. By the 1970s the epidemic had begun and by the 1980s the virus had reached five continents.
Despite its history, it’s important to note that HIV can be transmitted through sexual intercourse or drug needle usage. In other words, the virus can be carried on through the blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. Or if drug addicts share needles or repeatedly use an old one, they increase their chances of contracting the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans make up the highest percentage of new diagnosis. In 2016, African Americans made up 44 percent of HIV diagnosis. That percentage translates to roughly 17,528 persons with the virus. A majority of the persons are men.
The CDC explained that most of the men were aged 25-34 at the time of their diagnoses and that 58 percent of them identified as gay or bisexual. This does not mean that every man who identifies as gay or bisexual has HIV, rather it means they have an increased chance at contracting the disease.
Some of the ways to avoid contracting and transmitting the disease is through the use of condoms. It’s also important to talk with one’s sexual partner and disclose any STIs.
According to Tiffany Wynn from the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, the symptoms of HIV vary from person to person. People may have a fever, chills, rashes, night sweats, muscle aches, a sore throat or mouth ulcers. A person should get tested if they believe they have HIV, because not treating HIV can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome otherwise known as AIDS.
“AIDS is the progression of HIV,” Wynn explained.
Basically, if a person doesn’t receive the proper treatment their health will continue to deteriorate, and they will obtain AIDS.
It’s through this, that several misconceptions surrounding HIV and AIDS were started.
First, HIV is not a death sentence, Wynn said. Although that was originally believed to be true, HIV positive people can seek treatment through a physician.
“The disease is manageable,” Wynn said.
Secondly, HIV is not transmittable through kissing or through oral sex. And finally, HIV is not the same as AIDS. A person, diagnosed with HIV can live a full life, a person diagnosed with AIDS may not.
Back in the day, if a 20-year old was diagnosed with HIV they would probably live to be about to 39 years old, Wynn explained. However, with proper treatment people can live to 70 years. When people take their medication and follow their treatment, they can become undetectable and eventually the virus becomes un-transmittable.
When it comes to sexual health and awareness, half the power is in knowing, Wynn said. People need to continue to educate themselves, because when it comes to sexual health there’s no need for judgement. What people need is support and understanding.