How To Teach About HIV/AIDS

  • Thirty three states and the District of Columbia currently require that schools teach about HIV.[1] This is higher than the number of states mandating sex education. Even in states

    requiring only HIV/AIDS education, class sessions may provide an opportunity to discuss other important sex-related topics including contraception. The National Sexuality Education Standards for this topic show how this can be the case.

    Middle School

    • Define HIV/AIDs including how they it and is not transmitted.
    • Compare and contrast behaviors to determine the potential risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.
    • Describe the signs, symptoms, and potential impacts of HIV/AIDS.
    • Demonstrate the use of effective communication skills to reduce or eliminate risk for HIV/AIDS
    • Develop a plan to eliminate or reduce HIV/AIDS risk.
    • Identify medically accurate information about HIV/AIDS.
    • Identify local STD testing and treatment resources.

    High School

    • Describe symptoms of and treatment(s) for HIV/AIDS.
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of safer sex methods on preventing HIV/AIDS.
    • Analyze factors that influence safer sex decisions.
    • Demonstrate skills to communicate with a partner about prevention and testing.
    • Apply a decision-making model to choices about safe-sex methods.
    • Develop a plan to eliminate or reduce HIV/AIDS risk.
    • Analyze individual responsibility about testing for and informing partners about HIV/AIDS.
    • Access medically-accurate prevention information about HIV/AIDS.
    • Explain how to access local STD testing and treatment services.

    Beyond meeting these learning objectives Kate McCombs, MPH a sex educator who has trained other public health professionals on this topic, stresses the importance of being culturally competent. “The epidemic is diverse,” she says and “stereotypes [like HIV/AIDS being a gay disease] have some utility but without context provide an incomplete picture.” Therefore, it’s important to learn what the epidemic looks like in the place you’re teaching and customize your lesson to best address that.

    Stereotypes also provide good teaching moments for more nuanced conversations. McCombs cautions that this conversation can bring up hurtful statements about men who have sex with men, sex workers, injection drug users, and other populations among whom HIV rates are high. It’s important, therefore, to do a lot of work in advance to prepare responses that allow you to correct the misinformation while continue a productive conversation.

    Lastly, McCombs stresses the importance of finding a balance between portraying HIV/AIDS as both something to be taken seriously and a manageable disease. “HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence” but ensuring students have accurate information about prevention and testing remains vital.

    [1] Guttmacher Instittue. (2015). Sex and HIV education. State Policies in Brief. http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_SE.pdf

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