Teenagers, Sex & HIV: Who Is At Risk & What Should You Do

August 15, 2022

I’m Young, Why Do I Need To Worry About HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV is a severe and life-threatening disease with no effective cure, but there is very effective treatment. People are more vulnerable to severe illnesses when HIV is undiagnosed or HIV medication isn’t taken regularly. Education, prevention and awareness is the best way to end the HIV epidemic.

HIV and teenagers

About 1 in 4 of all new HIV infections are among the 13-24 age group, and 80% of these people are male. About 60% of 13-24 year-old new infections are Black with Hispanics and Whites comprising 20% each. Many people with HIV were infected as a teen or before the age of 25. Most sexually active 13-24-year-olds often don’t realize the risk for HIV and do not get tested. This age group is more likely than any other to be undiagnosed with HIV and continue to spread the virus unknowingly. Once diagnosed, teens and young adults are less likely to get treatment. This age group has a lower rate of viral suppression and is unlikely to stay healthy. All of these factors increase the risk of transmitting HIV to others.

How is HIV spread?

HIV is transmitted most frequently during sexual intercourse through bodily fluids like semen and vaginal fluids. The second most common way to spread HIV is through intravenous drug use and shared syringes. Blood, needles or other sharp items contaminated with infected body fluids or blood can also spread HIV. Babies and small children often get HIV infection from an infected mother.

Is it safe to be near someone with HIV?

Being around an HIV-positive person is safe. Doing things like hugging or sitting next to an HIV+ person will not spread the virus. People that are HIV+ need to take extra care not to get cut while preparing food or using common household items. HIV transmission in schools or childcare centers is extremely unlikely.

How do I know if I have HIV?

HIV is an infection that lasts a lifetime. Symptoms may not appear for months or years after picking up the virus. The average time from getting the virus until developing signs of AIDS in teenagers and adults is 10 to 11 years. Infected teens and young adults are typically unaware and spread HIV to others.

Self-testing at home

There are rapid self-test for HIV that can be performed at home. The test results take about 20 minutes. For an HIV self-test, a swab is used to collect oral fluid. These kits are available at pharmacies and online, as well as at the local health department. Getting tested is a step toward ending the HIV epidemic.


“Since becoming a patient with HSNT, I feel seen, cared for, and more informed than I’ve ever been.”  –  Jordan Grahmann

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