I grew up in Zimbabwe, where nearly 15% of the population is living with HIV. Think about that. That's nearly 1 in 5 people. I've lost friends and family members to AIDS, and the saddest part is that those losses were totally preventable. As a result, I constantly ask myself: "If only…?"
+ IF ONLY people would talk about AIDS
I love boys who snore. When I was a kid, everyone around me were dying, but I didn't know why. Because the deaths seemed so random, I worried obsessively that my family would be next. If I ever woke up in the middle of the night, I couldn't fall back asleep until I heard my dad’s obnoxiously loud snoring. It comforted me like a lullaby, because it meant he was still alive.
Misconceptions and lack of education on HIV and AIDS like this are common in Zimbabwe because for the longest time -- and even still today -- AIDS simply wasn't something people discussed. Our culture is extremely conservative, and discussing AIDS means discussing sex, which means having sex, which means you’re not the good little Christian girl or boy your parents raised you to be. This lack of conversation lead to the spread of AIDS because people didn't know enough about safe sex or medical practices to prevent it. If you're sexually active, it’s especially important to be informed. The only way to prevent the spread of STDs is to understand how.
+ IF ONLY more people would use condoms
Any time I insist a boy wear a condom, I get a different version of same misinformed response: “I trust you.” My response? “Don’t trust me.” I know where my 'nani has been, but you don’t! And I surely don't know where your junk has been, either. HIV comes in all shapes and sizes. The rich, the poor; the young, the old; the Black, the White; the slut, the nun. There isn't a single person on Earth trustworthy or innocent enough for you to skip the protection, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Protect yourself!
+ IF ONLY more people would get tested
50 percent of young Americans with HIV don’t even know they have it! The same is true for people in many parts of the world. Most of the friends and family I've lost unknowingly contracted HIV from their partners or parents. You shouldn't drive a car without insurance, you shouldn't hunt without a permit, and you most definitely shouldn't have sex without getting tested regularly. It's quick, painless (they don’t even have to draw blood anymore), and often times free!
My only hope for this World AIDS Day is that more young people will make responsible choices when it comes to sexual health. Too many people are living with HIV -- and it is 100% preventable. Do yourself a favor and get tested. Do your friends a favor and tell them to get tested. Do ME a favor and get tested 'cause you're hot and I wanna... nevermind.
Alexandra Govere is an MTV Act correspondent and was one of the seven strangers on "Real World: San Diego."
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