By Mindy Gee, 16, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
Print This Post

Ray Fernandez is the coordinator of AIDS Project Los Angeles’s Mpowerment Program, an HIV prevention program for young gay, bisexual and questioning males. I talked to him about HIV/AIDS.

How can you contract AIDS?
You don’t contract AIDS, you contract HIV. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a stage in the disease. On average a person may live with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) for 15 to 20 years. AIDS is the end stage.

Does a condom protect you against HIV/AIDS?
A condom is highly effective when used properly. Always check the expiration date. Carry your own (especially for women. They think men should be the ones to have the condoms ready). Use your hands to open it, not your teeth. Store it properly at room temperature, don’t just throw it into the glove compartment in the car or put it in your wallet. It’s important to carry your own because you don’t know what the other person did to the condom or how the other person cared for it. Don’t use oil-based lubricants, use water-based.

Can HIV/AIDS be transmitted through oral sex?
There are no known documented cases of HIV being transmitted through oral sex. It’s considered a low-risk behavior as far as HIV is concerned. What could put someone at risk is poor oral hygiene—sores, cuts or bleeding gums. But there are plenty of other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) that can be transmitted orally, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Oral sex is not a risk-free activity.

Who should get tested and how often?
If you are sexually active, get tested every six months. Some people don’t consider oral sex to be sex, and these are people who also should get tested. Even if you haven’t had sex, it would be nice to find out what the test is like. It’s like going to the dentist.

How do you ask about your partner’s sexual background?
You yourself have to be open and honest. The more knowledge, the better. The primary thing is to protect yourself and never put [your health] in anybody’s hands. Many base it on what their partner says. Common logic, “I’m a virgin, I don’t need to use a condom.” When somebody says “I’ve had 15 partners but used condoms and have been tested for HIV,” you only hear the number 15. Regardless of what your partner has to say, you are the most important thing. Be honest with each other.

Where can you get an AIDS test?
You can get tested for HIV, not AIDS. You can get tested anonymously, there’s no need for parental consent and you can be under 18. You can get tested at any county clinic. STD hotlines also can direct you. (The Los Angeles County STD/HIV hotline is (800) 758-0880)

If you have HIV, will you automatically get AIDS?
You can have HIV for three to seven years on average without any symptoms. After that, depending on whether you’re getting treatment or not, the disease can develop into AIDS.

Are there symptoms and how long does it take before they appear?
With HIV, you may have cold-, flu-like symptoms, night sweats, fever, a rash across the body or abdominal area, or none at all. Weight loss, fatigue and diarrhea are also some other symptoms.

Is there a cure?
Currently there is no cure for HIV.

Statistics suggest that new cases of AIDS are most commonly reported among people who contracted HIV as teenagers. Is that true and why is it happening?
Every day, it’s estimated 14,000 new cases of HIV emerge all around the world. Of those 6,000 are youths under age 25. The numbers have increased. It is because of lack of education and limited access to information. Some adults don’t want kids to know. A lot of abstinence-only programs are failing miserably. STD rates are higher where there is such a program.

Some teens think that AIDS is something they tell you in health class to scare you into not having sex. What would you say to those teens?
I think a lot of HIV education is centered around fear. That’s totally inappropriate and ineffective as far as getting people to want to learn about HIV and the way it’s transmitted so they can make choices based on reality and facts, as opposed to misinformation.
    A lot of young people think, “I have a boyfriend, I’m safe, we don’t need to use protection.” But across the board, so-called monogamous situations are where STDs turn up because people aren’t being clear to each other or honest about what monogamy means.
    Yes, it’s a very real disease that you have to be educated about. Be aware of how to protect yourself.

Where to get tested

These clinics offer free or low-cost confidential HIV testing. A complete listing of clinics also is available by calling the STD/HIV hotline at (800) 758-0880. Health educators can answer your questions Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. They also will mail free condoms to your house in an unmarked package. Or go to to find a clinic near you that offers HIV tests.

Asian Pacific Health Care Venture
1530 Hillhurst Ave., Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 644-3888

Bienestar South Los Angeles Center
130 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90003
(323) 752-3100

East Valley Community Health Center
420 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, CA 91790
(626) 919-4333

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
1625 N. Schrader Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028
Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-8 p.m.
(323) 993-7500
745 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA  90069
Tue-Fri 3-8 p.m.; 2nd & 4th Sat 3-8 p.m.
(323) 993-7440

T.H.E. Clinic, Inc.
3834 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90062
(323) 730-1920

The Los Angeles Free Clinic
6043 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028
8405 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048
5205 Melrose Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 653-1990

Valley Teen Clinic
6801 Coldwater Canyon Ave., North Hollywood, 91605
toll-free (888) 763-4070

Venice Family Clinic
604 Rose Ave., Venice, CA 90291
(310) 392-8636 (call to make appointment)

Westside Family Health Center
1711 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, 90405
(310) 450-2191

Planned Parenthood
Call (800) 230-PLAN (7526) to find the clinic nearest you. Or go to