Can you talk to your parents about sex?
Facts about HIV/AIDS

By Lizeth Castillo, 15, Monroe HS
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Lizeth Castillo hopes that teens will pay more attention in their sex education classes.

It’s been more than two decades since the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Since then, more than 60 million people worldwide have been infected, the majority of them under the age of 25. If this continues, it’s estimated that AIDS could claim up to 100 million lives worldwide by 2020, making it the worst epidemic in history. Although there is no known cure for AIDS, it is preventable. Yet so many lives are taken each year by this disease. As I sit here writing, I have to ask myself—why?

Pretty shocking isn’t it? I was sitting in shock when I learned about this from a guest speaker in health class at the end of ninth grade. It was my first sex education class because in seventh grade, my teacher had been uncomfortable with the topic. I had been the type of person who never thought about the consequences of sex, other than getting pregnant, of course. I always knew AIDS was out there—it was no new discovery—but the things I learned that day inspired me to spread the word to as many people as will take the time to listen (be careful—this is about sex!).

What is that thing?

So there I was in sixth period. Our guest speaker was from the Mission City Community Network, a health clinic in North Hills near my school. For two hours, we learned about sexually transmitted diseases and birth control. She told us that although HIV/AIDS is the worst-case scenario in the line of STDs, there are still other diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B and genital warts. Our visitor’s horrifying pictures of bloated, warty body parts made the class stop giggling whenever she said the word "sex." I sat next to my friend, our heads cocked sideways trying to figure out what the heck we were looking at. When we found out … eeewww!

By the time the presentation ended, the class was silent. I was creeped out. I thought about some of the teens I knew who had been sexually active for years. Did they know this could happen to them? Would it happen to me?

A couple days later, we were in for more sex education. My friends had been telling me all day that the talk almost made them cry. All I knew was that this married couple was going to talk to us about sex. Oh no! I was not ready for another one of those presentations, especially if there were going to be pictures.

When we arrived the couple was already there. I was shocked to see that they were old. Why would a bunch of high school teens listen to someone who’s as old as their parents? We didn’t want a lecture. They explained that they go from school to school discussing their sex lives with strangers in hopes that students could learn from their experiences before it was too late. Both of them described their carefree youths in which they had many lovers. The husband had contracted herpes. Once he met his wife, he had to tell her that he had herpes, which is incurable. The wife had gotten gonorrhea four times. Though it is curable, it left her unable to have children. When they finished their story, I wasn’t crying, but I felt really awful for them. People think that the only disease you have to worry about is AIDS, but this couple proved that other sexually transmitted diseases are pretty nasty too.

They handed out little pins that said, "I’m Worth Waiting For." To get one you had to go up and say, "I’m worth waiting for." Almost everyone in the room got one, but generally as a joke.

It’s been months since those presentations, but I still think about them sometimes. Deciding to investigate STDs further, I searched the Internet and found a quiz that evaluates your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. So I clicked. Was I a man having sex with other men? Was I a bisexual woman having sex with both sexes? Had I had more than 1,000 sexual partners in my life? More than 500 in the past year? By the time I got to question 17, I got freaked out and clicked out of that Web site.

Then I decided to call the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and ask a couple of questions about what was involved in getting tested for STDs. Before having sex, teens should insist that they and their partners get tested.

The operator informed me that I could be referred to a clinic in my area for the test. If I did, I would speak with a pre-test counselor, have some blood drawn, and wait for my results. The results can take one to several weeks. I would be notified by phone or mail that my results were ready, after which I could talk to a post-test counselor, whether I had the disease or not.

So that’s it. It’s that simple to save a life. It’s that easy to prevent something that has 45,428 people living with HIV/AIDS in California alone since last reported by the CDC in December 2001. The information is out there. It’s not hard to find, so check it out. What do you have to lose?

For more information about sexually transmitted diseases, contact:
Centers for Disease Control National STD and AIDS 24-hour hotline
(800) 227-8922; (800) 342-AIDS (2437) (English); (800) 344-SIDA (7432)