How often do we go through life consciously evaluating the risks and rewards of our choices and behavior? My guess is that we spend a considerable about of time contemplating our education, career path, life partner, house purchase, and our next vacation. We can even recite a litany of of dos and don’ts: don’t drink and drive, do wear your seat belt, don’t put yourself in unsafe situations, do use a condom.
If we know all this, then why do people still drink and drive, not wear seat belts, don’t keep themselves safe, and don’t use condoms? We know what we need to do, but we may not do it all of the time or speak up when necessary.
Here are some interesting results from a 2011 Center for Disease Control and Prevention asked of students in the United States:
- Percentage of high school students who rarely or never wore a seat belt when riding in a car when driven by somebody else: 7.7% (Male: 8.9%; Female: 6.3%)
- Percentage of high school students who rode in a car or other vehicle with someone who had been drinking alcohol one or more times in previous 30 days: 24.1% (Male: 23.3%; Female: 24.9%)
- Percentage of high school students who carried a weapon (gun, knife, or club) on at least once occasion in previous 30 days: 16.6% (Male: 25.9%; Female: 6.8%)
- Percentage of high school students who attempted suicide one or more times in previous 12 months: 7.8% (Male: 5.8%; 9.8%). This statistic appears to be underreported as the national statistic is closer to 17%.
- Percentage of high school students who smoked cigarettes during at least one day during the month: 18.1% (Male: 19.9%; Female: 16.1%)
- Percentage of high school students who had at least one drink of alcohol on at least one day during the past 30 days: 38.7% (Male: 39.5%; Female: 37.9%)
- Percentage of high school students who used marijuana at least one time in their life: 39.9% (Male: 42.5%; Female: 37.2%)
- Percentage of high school students who used methamphetamines at least in their life: 3.8% (Male: 4.5%; Female: 3.0%)
- Percentage of high school students who used a needle to inject any illegal drug into their body at least once: 2.3% (Male: 2.9%; Female: 1.6%)
- Percentage of high school students who ever had sexual intercourse: 47.4% (Male: 49.2%; Female: 45.6%)
- Percentage of high school students who had sexual intercourse with 4 or more people: 15.3% (Male: 17.8%; 12.6%)
- Percentage of high school students who use a condom during last sexual intercourse (among sexually active students): 60.2% (Male: 67%; Female: 53.6%)
These statistics tell me that we need to be having more conversations with young people! The more risky behaviors a person participate, the greater the chance they will contract HIV. Education and information must continue to be available, but we need to shift the conversation beyond the dos and don’ts to the factors that contribute to the risky behaviors and stigma associated with sexuality, addiction, suicide, and bullying.
The NorCal AIDS Cycle concluded with 119 cyclists and and equal number of support people riding into the Sacramento Capitol, raising over $327,000 for direct services for those living with HIV/AIDS. It was a spectacular sight!
What’s even more spectacular are the people who are working tirelessly on the front lines, behind the scenes, and inconspicuously to change the conversation. Zero new HIV infections by 2015 is possible, but we must first empower our young people with understanding and skills that they are worthy of a whole, healthy, lifestyle of their choosing.