We are still fighting against the HIV & AIDS epidemic, and us young women and girls are often left out of the narrative. While the HIV & AIDS epidemic primarily affected gay males at the start of the epidemic, HIV does not discriminate against gender, sex or age. Young women and girls are not immune either. Many in our generation believe this is a sexual health issue for the older generation or even cis-gender gay males, but HIV affects our community, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 9% of high school students have been tested for HIV. These numbers are dangerously low, considering roughly 40% of high school students are sexually active. Adding HIV testing to your STI screening is imperative to maintain a sexually healthy lifestyle by protecting yourself and your sexual partners. We must understand that HIV can equally affect our livelihood, and we must take action on our sexual health.
It is also essential to highlight the communities of women disproportionately affected by HIV, mainly Black and African American women, and Latinx women. Despite only making up 13% of the U.S. population, Black women accounted for 57% of new HIV diagnoses in 2018. Additionally, Latinx women accounted for 18% of new HIV diagnoses while making up roughly 16% of the U.S. population.
These rates are even higher among transgender women, with 62% of Black transgender women and 35% of Latinx transgender women living with HIV compared to 17% of their white counterparts. These numbers are startling, demonstrating a clear issue with testing, sexual health education, lack of access to health resources, and other social determinants of health that prevent marginalized women from protecting themselves against HIV.
There is more we can do to lower rates of new HIV diagnoses among young women and protect ourselves and others to help end the epidemic:
Get tested. Many college campuses now offer HIV testing at their student health centers. Campus health providers can connect you to local community-based organizations and county or state health centers that provide testing and PrEP.
Talk to your provider about PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, the daily oral medication taken to lower the risk of getting HIV through sex or injection drug use.
It’s also essential to use protection; latex condoms should always be used during sexual activities to practice safe sex, female condoms and dental dams are also available.
Educate yourself and others on HIV awareness and prevention. HIV stigma still runs strong, especially within Black and Brown communities, where individuals are unfortunately most affected. HIV myth-busting is imperative in lowering numbers within our communities, and HRC needs your help in spreading knowledge.
As young people, we often have this mindset of invincibility, that we are young with strong healthy immune systems, and that we’re therefore untouchable. However, the numbers don’t lie, HIV is impacting us as well and we need to protect ourselves and others. I’ve witnessed too many friends receive diagnoses due to not protecting themselves and their partner, it’s time we take control of our sexual health. With increased destigmatization and PrEP intake, we can be the generation to truly lower numbers of new diagnoses to levels we’ve never seen before.
This National Women and Girls HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, we ask that you use your social media platforms to spread awareness on HIV prevention and resources so that we can get closer to ending the fight against HIV.