Hearing that almost 90% of 12-17 year olds taking part in a sexual health survey felt they would never be at risk of HIV during their entire lifetime is the sort of eye-opener that reminds me why I am proud to be a HIV activist.
When a BBC Newsbeat journalist got in contact with me on Twitter with the MAC AIDS Fund survey findings I wasn’t surprised to discover the results weren’t good, but I was shocked at just how bad the state of sexual health knowledge is amongst Britain’s teens. And this comes just six months after the House of Lords voted against mandatory sex and relationship education in schools.
Let me be clear, personally I believe good, robust sex and relationship education is just one core method of decreasing the prevalence of HIV in the UK. Some personal responsibility must also be factored in – sex education isn’t up to scratch, but many people know how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies and other STIs, even if their knowledge of HIV is limited.
When I went to University in 2003 there were 220 MSM age 15-24 in England diagnosed with HIV, by the time I graduated in 2006 this was 313, when I started my career with my current employer a year later the figure was 345, and by 2012 443! Essentially within 10 years the numbers had doubled. And in that time what has happened to sex and relationship education? Nothing. Absolute zip.
It’s over a decade since I left school and what stood out for me more than anything when I met up with a group of students in London, was that sex education had not changed one bit. When I asked the students if it focused on reproduction or sexual health in general we can all guess what the answer was – and this was the same for me growing up. It’s no wonder in gay men in particular we see a high frequency of positive STI tests if the subject taught in schools isn’t even going to engage with them in the first place.
More worryingly was hearing that the students don’t even talk about sexual health with their friends or classmates, in fact only one of them said they were concerned about it – the others hadn’t given it a second thought. Yet they had so many questions, many of them about HIV in particular, their knowledge worse than mine before my diagnosis. HIV aside they had a genuine interest in their own sexual health, initially in our conversation when I asked them what they worry about when they think about their health they focused on concerns regarding their physical health, fitness or mental health – by the end of the session I think they would have all included sexual health in this list as well. This small group have been lucky enough to have been given this opportunity to speak with someone living with the virus, having a first-hand experience, the vast majority don’t.
Yesterday I received my latest results, this is always a time when it dawns on me the situation I’m in, what I may have to face year in, year out. The results weren’t what I wanted but I’m still healthy and doing ok – but I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this every 3, 6 or 12 months. It’s not an amazing experience, and it’s one we can help the next generation avoid.
You can check out the story from Newsbeat here
To find out what you can do to get quality Sex and Relationship Education in the UK check out THT’s campaign here