Charlie Sheen’s HIV announcement should be a teachable moment
The internet is buzzing after Charlie Sheen’s Today Show appearance, where he announced that he has been HIV positive for more than four years. I shouldn’t be surprised that memes and jokes about Sheen #notwinning would be trending on social media, but speculation about his behavior leading up to his diagnosis and the subsequent online reaction was upsetting.
I consider myself an extremely open-minded and sexually liberated progressive, so I have no interest in using this story for anti-sex fear mongering. At the same time, there’s been this nonchalant attitude toward casual sex with little to no emphasis on making sure people protect themselves as much as possible when they’re sexually active. The U.S. actually debates whether or not it makes sense to educate people about this very real problem.
Recently TYT reported on a rather salacious story for Veteran’s Day featuring a porn star named “Jenny Jizz” who offered to give vets free blow jobs as a token of her gratitude. On its face the story was raunchy and fun. But I felt like a Debbie downer grandmother pointing out that she’s putting herself and others at risk of contracting some pretty serious sexually transmitted diseases.
Also consider the fact that sex sells extremely well, and explicit content is everywhere around us. It’s in advertisements, television shows, and almost every other form of entertainment imaginable. At the same time, education on sex, which would equip young people with the information required to keep themselves safe, is not the norm in the U.S. Unfortunately sex ed is more of a controversial political issue, when it should just be common sense.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 22 states require schools to teach sex education, and among them 19 states require that sex education must be medically, factually or technically accurate. In other words, three states that teach sex ed don’t require the information to be accurate.
When it comes to HIV and AIDS, 33 states offer students some information or instruction. Wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that every state inform students about the realities of sex and how to protect themselves when nearly half of high school students report that they’re already sexually active?
Not all states with sex ed provide students with comprehensive information. The Guttmacher Institute found that only 19 states require information on condoms and other contraception. Unsurprisingly, the states that don’t offer comprehensive sex ed tend to have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies.
The highest rates of new HIV cases per capita are in states like Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana, where education on HIV is not mandated.
Thankfully Sheen has the resources necessary to keep his HIV under control so he can live a long and healthy life. His doctor says the HIV isn’t even detectable in his blood because of the powerful anti-viral drugs he’s taking. But the majority of Americans don’t have the same resources, and it’s incredibly important to ensure that everyone is educated and knowledgeable about preventative options available to protect themselves from diseases.
People have sex, and for all the parents cringing right now, young people are included in the equation. We can’t keep celebrating sexual content in all forms of media while simultaneously refusing to teach students how to be responsible if and when they’re sexually active.