Young People Talk About AIDS

Teens and 20-somethings have grown up knowing about HIV/AIDS. Thirty years after AIDS was first diagnosed, young adults discuss their feelings and attitudes toward the syndrome.

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We wondered how young people view AIDS today, people for whom the disease has been a reality their whole lives. So we asked Youth Radio's Asha Richardson to take to the streets of Berkeley and Oakland, California.

ASHA RICHARDSON: A lot has changed since the '80s, or so I'm told. I wasn't born until 1991, the same year Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV. I'm 19 now, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard people joke that Magic Johnson discovered the cure to AIDS: money.

Katherine Hood knows the same joke. She's a senior at UC Berkeley. Regardless of the jokes, we both know HIV is still deadly serious.

Ms. KATHERINE HOOD: I think it's interesting because, like, while I don't think it's the same sort of death sentence mentality, to me it's still like if I actually stop and think about getting it, it still seems like it's a horrifying thought.

RICHARDSON: Hood and lots of kids we talked to said their school sex ed classes were pretty good. Thanks to my school's health classes, I had seen a condom by the seventh grade and knew what it was for.

My mom even bought me a book called "Deal With It." I remember my friends coming over after school to giggle about the stick figure illustrations of sexual positions. Sex and STDs weren't a mystery for me, but that's not the experience had by some students like UC Berkeley senior Tori Partridge.

Ms. TORI PARTRIDGE: I went to this, like, little private Catholic school. Our sex ed was basically, hey, these are the diseases you can get. Don't have sex. So I just sort of went into this world unprepared.

RICHARDSON: The benefit of being in my generation is that we can turn to Google for answers, but no amount of research can prepare a person to ask their sexual partner if they've been tested.

Nicki Ghafari and Parisa Tehrani are sitting at a food court in downtown Berkeley. They graduated from a local Catholic high school just last Sunday and are headed to college this fall. They know they're supposed to ask about their partner's sexual heath, but the idea still makes them uncomfortable.

Ms. NICKI GHAFARI: If you ask someone, it's like they're dirty in a way, like they're gross.

Ms. PARISA TEHRANI: Yeah. You think that they're dirty and gross, and they're not clean, and you think less of them and all that stuff. But it's really not that.

Ms. GHAFARI: Personally, I mean, I feel like whoever that you're with, you should ask.

Ms. TEHRANI: Yeah.

RICHARDSON: At Laney College in downtown Oakland, junior Salvador Lopez has a little more experience with this situation. He isn't afraid to have the conversation with his sexual partner.

Mr. SALVADOR LOPEZ: It wasn't awkward. I just shot the question right back, like what about you? And I'm like, I'm good. I don't know. No matter how comfortable you are, at least, you still have to ask, you know, just to be safe.

RICHARDSON: My friend Elizabeth Welsh, a junior at Mills College, wants to be safe, but she feels like the talk around prevention never includes her.

Ms. ELIZABETH WELSH: I mean, I will say that I'm a lesbian, and I have a lot of unprotected sex.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELSH: But I mean, like, I talk about AIDS, and I'm so, like, informed on this and things. But at the same time, it's like I'm not really using a condom in my sex. So what am I going to do?

RICHARDSON: Welsh thinks prevention is mainly geared towards straight people and gay men. And no matter who you are, the saddest part about getting tested for HIV today is that you're not only worried about your test results, but you're still terrified about what people might say - or at least, I would be.

Mr. DAVID VILLAMARINA: People get made fun of for having an STD or STI, are looked at differently, or people are judged upon that.

RICHARDSON: That's David Villamarina, a student at Laney College. While treatments have progressed dramatically in the last 30 years, Villamarina says we're still hung up on the wrong thing.

Mr. VILLAMARINA: We want to be more focused on like what we could do to stop it instead of like who has it? Like, it's not about who already got it. The people who already got it, they got it.

RICHARDSON: Today, anyway.

My hope is that 30 years from now, people who got it, HIV that is, won't have it forever.

For NPR News, I'm Asha Richardson.

SIEGEL: That story was produced by, an online news service of Youth Radio.

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