Young Love Raises HIV Risks
Teenagers are growing physically and mentally, and many experiment with sex during this time. While the numbers have reduced slightly over the years, more than 50% of teens have had sex at least once before age 18. However, sexual activity raises the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), especially in teens. HIV continues to be a severe epidemic and can alter a teen’s life if contracted. Resources like testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can keep teens safe and healthy.
How does HIV impact teens?
Since the start of the epidemic, HIV rates have declined significantly. Thanks to medication and testing, people are avoiding infection and living longer with the disease. Yet, some groups are still at risk. Almost 1 in 4 new infections occur in teens and young adults. This group is often unaware of the disease or fails to use proper contraceptive methods. Furthermore, the virus can sometimes go undetected in young people, increasing the risk of transfer due to unprotected sex. Teens in minority groups also face additional stigmas and reduced healthcare access, increasing the risk. HIV can have long-term effects on the physical, emotional, and social lives of teenagers.
Ready for PrEP?
Teens choosing to have sex must use protection during every encounter. However, PrEP can provide additional support. PrEP is an effective antiretroviral drug that can be used proactively to pre-load the body with antibodies before contact with HIV occurs. When the drug is used correctly, teens build up the protection necessary to prevent the virus from spreading. Studies show that PrEP is over 90% effective in preventing HIV infection. For people who inject drugs (PWID), protection is at least 74%. Teens can use this drug consistently or leading up to a sexual encounter. PrEP is not a substitute for protected sex but allows the user to proactively reduce the chance of HIV infection.
Breaking down barriers
If PrEP is so fantastic, why aren’t more teens using the drug? Statistics show only 15% of teens know about PrEP, and only 11% use the drug. There are often barriers to teens accessing and using PrEP. Most teens aren’t educated on the drug and don’t have access, even in affluent spaces. Teens who seek access to the drug are also turned away. Many aren’t considered high-risk or responsible enough to receive a PrEP prescription. Moreover, most are afraid to ask for the drug, as this implies or confirms that the teenager is having sex. The stigma around teenage sex, especially in same-sex relationships, is alive and well. These barriers must come down to end the HIV epidemic.
Teens need educational programs in schools and online that include content about PrEP. Additionally, there must be safe spaces for teens to discuss sex with trusted adults. Providing information, help, and medication in a non-judgmental way is critical to helping teens prevent HIV. In other words, the earlier teens can receive information and access, the better. Young people armed with information can make wiser choices in the future. Furthermore, teens will be empowered to use the drug safely.
The future is bright
Teens can reduce the chances of contracting HIV through safe sex practices. These practices include abstinence or using the proper contraception. However, PrEP must also be made more accessible to give teens additional control over sexual health. The drug is proven to reduce HIV infections, especially through sex. There must be trust in the youth to make the right decisions and use PrEP effectively.