In 1988, in the midst of the public health crisis that current college students weren’t around to witness, World AIDS Day began. Every year, on Dec. 1, people remind themselves that they are surrounded by people who have been directly affected by HIV/AIDS. Here at Yale, and in New Haven, there are commemorative events and candlelight vigils, but then Dec. 2 comes around and the world keeps turning, often forgetting the lessons learned the day before.
Our ignorance to the threat of STDs and HIV throughout the other 364 days of the year is odd when one considers the prevalence of sex here. The hookup culture at Yale has made sex less taboo than it is in many other communities, and it is not unusual for students to have multiple sexual partners during their time at Yale. Yale also has a significant homosexual male population, the population most at risk for contracting HIV. With both these factors in mind, we should be more focused on the risk of HIV. It’s surprisingly under the radar at Yale. You can go through countless workshops in your first two years at Yale, discussing things like levels of intimacy and bystander intervention and never once hear about how 1.2 million people are living in the US with HIV. Or, worse, how 1 in 8 of them don’t even know it.
HIV diagnoses have overall been in decline since 2005, but there are some populations who are experiencing increases in diagnoses. Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men have seen a 24 percent increase in diagnoses since 2005 and young black gay and bisexual men saw an increase of over 80 percent in diagnoses in the past decade. In 2014, 40 percent of people diagnosed with HIV in the United States were between the ages of 13 and 29. It is not a disease that waits for you to get older or to graduate from college or to start your career. It is a disease that strikes young and stays with you for the rest of your life.
This isn’t a scare tactic. It’s is a reality check. Yes, homosexual men are most at-risk for HIV infection due to riskier sexual practice, but heterosexual transmission is on the rise. In 2014, gay and bisexual men accounted for 67% of all diagnoses, but heterosexual contact accounted for 24% of diagnoses. Women and men, gay and straight, run the risk of infection and should get tested frequently. Most health professionals recommend getting tested, for HIV and STDs, every six months or with every new sexual partner. Yale Health offers free STD and HIV testing, no questions asked. Know your status now and get tested regularly to ensure you stay healthy and are not transmitting the disease to other people.
There is a reason that our laundry rooms and our entryways feature baskets of condoms. Yes, Yale wants to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but they also want to prevent the transmissions of STDs, STIs and other diseases. Practice safe sex, for yourself, and for others. Don’t eschew condoms. It is not worth the risk. Yale makes them readily available to you for a reason. They’re not trying to get you laid; they’re trying to keep you safe.
If you are engaging in regular sexual activity, ask your doctor if you are a good candidate for PrEP. PrEP stands for Pre-exposure prophylaxis and it is a daily medication that lowers your chances of infection up to 92% post-exposure. Truvada is a popular option, and the Yale Health Prescription and Specialty Coverage makes PrEP available for only a $30 monthly copay. If you are interested in learning more about PrEP or getting a prescription, make an appointment with a Yale health care provider.
We’re lucky to attend a world-class university that cares about its students and their health and wellbeing, but we cannot take our privilege for granted. We are not invincible. We cannot claim to care about gay rights and the health and safety of minorities if we do not recognize the risks they face and choose to combat them head on. Don’t just think about HIV and AIDS on Dec. 1. Instead, let World AIDS Day serve as a conversation starter to get a dialogue flowing about safe sex, regular testing and — hopefully one day — a cure.
Alyssa Damron is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at email@example.com .