""I have had an HIV scare before, and it was one of the most horrifying weeks of my life.""
Jack Garfield, a psychology undergraduate whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, explained that a drunken escapade led him astray from taking his usual ""universal precautions."" Nerve-wracking weeks followed the single condom-less night, while Garfield waited for the final round of tests to read negative.
Despite Garfield's scare, he maintains that AIDS has had minimal impact on his life.
The majority of college students, gay or otherwise, would probably echo Garfield's sentiments. The extent of HIV's presence in their lives ends with having protected sex as a requirement, the awkwardness of a pre-hookup discussion and the mental anguish of getting tested.
If you asked someone 20 years ago about the influence of AIDS in his or her life, the answer would have been gravely different.
The Millennial Generation is coming of age in a world in which AIDS, despite its prevalence, is not a death sentence. Every year, 2.6 million people contract HIV, but the greatly increased life expectancy has triggered complacency among sexually active youth. Things are different today – scientists know what causes the disease, there are (somewhat effective) treatments and those diagnosed aren't informed they have only six months to live.
""I think that the apathy about HIV is an issue for everyone, but particularly for today's students since (students) have not experienced friends or family members dying from HIV/AIDS,"" Lee Ann Hamilton, the assistant director of Health Promotion and Preventive Services at Campus Health Service, said in an email. ""Today's students are much more complacent than students 20 years ago.""
Hamilton said the problem is rooted in denial and rationalization.
""A Caucasian student may say, ‘Hey, I won't get HIV because I think it's largely affecting people of color,'"" Hamilton said. ""An African American, straight male may say, ‘Hey, I won't get it, because I'm not gay.' A gay or bisexual man may say, ‘Hey, I won't get it because I don't inject drugs.' The truth is, anyone who has unprotected sex or shares needles with others is at risk.""
There are more than 2,000 people living with HIV or AIDS in Pima County alone, according to the Arizona HIV/AIDS Semi-Annual Surveillance Report. The disease hasn't gone away, only now it lurks in the denial of the invincible teenage mindset.
""People still don't take sexual education seriously,"" said Jai Smith, a co-director of the ASUA Pride Alliance. ""They still think that it's very much something that can't happen to them, especially in the LGBTQ community.""
The unfortunate fact is that men who have sex with men comprise 48 percent of all people diagnosed with AIDS in America, according to the 2007 HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High-risk heterosexual activity and injection drug use round out the transmission types.
This June marks the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS case reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though educational information regarding AIDS is more accessible today than 25 years ago, public dialogue remains limited.
""It doesn't help that we are socialized to not really talk about sex or talk about sex in a backward and whisper sort of way,"" Smith said. ""It limits public discussion about it.""
Arizona law also limits sex and AIDS education in public schools. Instruction must solely ""promote abstinence"" and forbids curriculum that ""portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style"" and ""suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.""
Though the amount infected by the virus stagnates around 55,000 people a year, the number of people living with HIV continues to grow. HIV isn't going away — only student awareness is.
— Ken Contrata isthe managing editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at email@example.com. Jazmine Woodberry contributed to the reporting of this article.