Aimee Yang
AIDS & Sexual Behavior

Background and information on AIDS

AIDS, which stands for Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is the final stage of HIV disease, which causes severe damage to the immune system. AIDS is the 6th leading cause of death among people ages 25-44 in the United States, and the World Health Organization estimates that more than 25 million people worldwide have died from this infection since the start of the epidemic. There are currently approximately 35 million people around the world living with HIV/AIDS, around 3 million of which are children under the age of 15. AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency virus which attacks the immune system and leaves the body vulnerable to a variety of life threatening infections and cancers. Once infected, common bacteria, yeast, parasites and viruses that ordinarily do not cause serious disease in people with healthy immune systems can cause fatal illnesses in people with AIDS.

How AIDS is spread

HIV has been found in saliva, tears, nervous system tissue and spinal fluid, blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. Semen and vaginal secretions are two common methods of transmission of HIV to others, and thus, sexual contact including oral, vaginal and anal sex can spread the virus. People engaging in unprotected sex, especially with people who have other high risks behaviors, are HIV positive, or have AIDS, are at the highest risk for getting HIV. People whose sexual partners participate in high risk activities, such as injection drug use or anal sex are also at extremely high risk for contracting AIDS. Since AIDS begins with an HIV infection, many people infected with the virus may have no visible symptoms for over 10 years, but can still be carriers of the virus. If the infection is not detected and treated quickly, the immune system gradually weakens and AIDS develops, and almost all those who are in with HIV, if not properly treated, will develop AIDS. The majority of HIV infections are acquired through unprotected sexual relations between partners, one of which has HIV, and the primary mode of HIV infection is through sexual contact between partners of the opposite sex. That being said, it is crucial for those engaging in sexual behaviors to be cognizant of the prevalence of the virus, and to engage in safe sexual behaviors. This topic of prevention will be addressed in the following portion of this paper.

Prevention & Communication

Engaging in safe sexual behaviors as well as enforcing open communication between partners is essential to the prevention of HIV/ AIDS. First and foremost, infected people should tell any sexual partner about their HIV-positive status. This initial communication can set the basis of any future sexual conducts, and place an emphasis on safe sex. Since HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids, those engaging in sexual behavior should use safe sex practices in order to prevent the transmission of the virus. An example of this is through the use of latex condoms, which are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission. However, although this form of protection is highly effective, those choosing to engage in sexual behaviors still take a small risk of acquiring the infection. Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. Also, since people with high risk partners, who engage in drugs or other unprotected sex, are more prone to contracting the virus, communication between partners is essential. Before engaging in sexual behavior, ask your partner if he or she has done drugs, or how many other people they are engaging in sexual behavior with. In any case, practicing safe sex is pertinent. The riskiest sexual behavior is unprotected receptive anal intercourse, and the least risky sexual behavior is receiving oral sex. Performing oral sex on a man is associated with some risk of HIV transmission, but this is less risky than unprotected vaginal intercourse. Performing oral sex on a woman who does not have her period has a low risk of transmission.

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Stopping before sexual activity to talk to your partner about behavior and safe sex is essential to the prevention of HIV/AIDS.


Prior to sexual behavior, communication between adults to children about AIDS plays a big role in children’s behavior in the future. Parent- child communication regarding sexual behaviors leads to the child being more likely to practice safe sex, being more comfortable discussing sexuality issues, and enforces more successful transition into adulthood in terms of psychological factors and moral maturity. In addition, a parent can reduce negative peer influences and influence sexual scripts. A study done by McElreach et al showed that parents’ attitudes towards AIDS were found to be a significant predictor of a child’s attitude toward persons with AIDS. That being said, parents should be sure to have knowledgeable yet informal conversations with their children about the disease and how it is transmitted, along with prevention methods such as practicing safe sex, knowing your partner, or abstinence. This in turn will increase the likelihood that children will be more sexually responsible, and when it comes to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, that difference can be a matter of life or death. In addition, many schools have incorporated information about AIDS into their sexual education programs, in hopes that more educated adolescents will make better choices when it comes to sexual behavior, thus reducing the spread of preventable diseases such as HIV/ AIDS. This type of formal education in schools is extremely important, because if adolescents just depend on information from their peers or the media, especially if parents don’t play a role in their sexual education, they may never know about safe sex practices, and thus don’t know of the existence or preventability of AIDS until it’s too late.

Conclusion
HIV/AIDS is a disease with no known cure that has led to tens of millions of deaths around the world. The main cause of transmission is through unprotected sexual activity, so the enforcement of safe sex practices is extremely crucial to the prevention of this disease. Through enhanced communication between parents, educators, and partners, we can work together to become more knowledgeable about our sexual behaviors, and we can prevent HIV/ AIDS from having the debilitating impact it has had on so many lives.


References

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4. McElreach LH, Roberts, MC. Perceptions of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome by Children and Their Parents. Department of Psychology and Department of Human Development, university of Kansas. <http://jpepsy.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/4/477.abstract>. Accessed April 3. 2011.

5. N'Galy B, Ryder RW (1988). "Epidemiology of HIV infection in Africa". Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 1 (6): 551–558

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