Tag Archives: Sex Education

What It’s Like Living As a HIV-Positive Teen


When she was an infant, Ashley Rose Murphy was extremely sick. Murphy was born with HIV, which she contracted from her late birth mother. After spending over three months in a coma, she was placed into palliative care, taken in by adoptive parents, and given just weeks to live. Over 18 years later, the teen’s very much alive—and making her voice heard as a fierce advocate for HIV awareness.

Article via Self.

SELF is a wellness resource and community for all aspects of a person’s life. They recognise that wellness is as much about self-expression and self-compassion as it is about workout classes and healthy eating; and that every person’s individual goals for wellness are different.  

“I found out I was HIV positive when I was 7 years old,” Murphy tells SELF. “When my parents told me, they sat me down and they said, ‘Ashley, the reason why you take all of these medications and why you go to all these doctor appointments is because you have a virus called HIV. At the time I didn’t understand what that meant at all, I was in grade two. I was just very oblivious and was like, ‘OK, so what’s for dinner?’” Her parents and doctors told her she shouldn’t tell anybody, but Murphy didn’t understand why. “I asked, ‘Why do I need to keep it a secret? I didn’t do anything wrong.’” Since then, Murphy has spoken to thousands of people, hoping to help educate others and reduce the stigma around HIV.

Murphy says the widespread fear of HIV stems from a lack of knowledge, which is why she speaks so openly about it. She speaks at school and conferences to educate both kids and adults about the virus so they understand what it is and what it’s like to live with it.

She started speaking at medical conferences in Canada (her home country) when she was 10 along with other kids she had grown up with in the medical system in Toronto. She attended a support group for children with HIV, and they occasionally went to speak with groups of medical professionals. “The other kids wouldn’t speak if there was media,” Murphy recalls, “but I didn’t really care.” Her mother tells SELF it was hard at first to see her daughter exposed like that, but Ashley was always comfortable. “I’ve always loved performing and singing, so being in front of people doesn’t scare me at all,” Murphy says.

When she got to high school, the speeches became a little more nerve wracking. When Murphy was in 10th grade, she spoke in front of her biggest audience of 16,5000 in Ottawa, Canada, for an event series called We Day. “Even though I had been out for so long, this was going to be my biggest crowd yet and my school was live steaming it in the lobby,” Murphy explains. “A lot of kids at my school knew, but mostly it was the kids in my grade who had gone to my elementary school, less than 200 people.” After this, her entire high school of 700-or-so kids would know she was HIV positive.

“As I started progressing in high school, I told more people,” she says, but in the beginning, she kept kind of quiet, unsure of how high school kids would react. “I didn’t know if they were going to be mean,” Murphy says. As she made more connections and her friendships developed, she started to tell people. “I’d say, ‘I have something to tell you, I’m HIV positive, I was born with it, if you have any questions let me know.’ And everyone was very positive toward it,” Murphy says.

That doesn’t mean she’s never experienced discrimination. Murphy says most of it has come from adults, not her peers. “One of my first tastes of stigma was when Children’s Aid Society was looking for a family to take me,” Murphy recalls (she doesn’t remember it herself, but was told the story when she was older). “I was placed with a woman before I started getting really sick. She didn’t know I had HIV, but when Children’s Aid called her and asked if she would take me back and they told her about my status, she refused to.” An incident that she remembers clearly happened when she was 7 and a classmate’s mother was uncomfortable with her being at a sleepover party. She also had a teacher her senior year of high school who thought she would transmit the virus from sharing a guitar with other students (because her skin cells would rub off onto the strings). In the same class, a broken guitar string scraped her finger and drew a little blood, leading to a whole fiasco where the department of public health was called—they “basically laughed,” Murphy’s mother tells SELF. But Murphy says in the end, a big deal was made out of nothing, and she felt very uncomfortable.

Last year, she went to speak to her brother’s kindergarten class about HIV/AIDS, per the teacher’s request. “I talked to the first group of kids and then after I was done speaking, I got confronted by the principal and he said, ‘Can you not use the word HIV in your next presentation?’ That really hurt,” Murphy says. “It’s crazy because that’s discrimination right there. I was asked to speak at the school, and here I am facing it.” It’s kind of tough to raise awareness and have an honest conversation about something like HIV when you’re not allowed to even say the word.

Murphy says she’s been lucky and most people have been very accepting, but that many of the HIV-positive young people she’s met through support groups and programs for kids with HIV have been bullied so much they’ve needed to switch schools. The reactions can be seen as an unfortunate side effect of the progress made in HIV treatment and prevention. “Forty years ago this was a huge topic everyone was talking about, but today no one really talks about AIDS or HIV,” says Steven Izen, founder and CEO of Lokai, a charitable retailer. “Not many people are talking about it now.” Among Lokai’s partnerships is one with (RED), where proceeds from their sale of limited edition bracelets goes to providing life-saving AIDS medication to communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Murphy teamed up with Lokai to help spread awareness and clear up misconceptions about HIV/AIDS as part of the bracelet’s launch.

Murphy’s infection is controlled by medication, which she’s been on all her life. “Right now my viral load is undetectable, meaning the number is under 50, which means my illness is very controlled,” Murphy says. “It’s not in my blood, only in my lymph nodes and brain.” The virus gives her a weakened immune system, so she gets sick more often, and it takes her longer to recover than it would for a healthy person.

The medication that controls the virus also comes with side effects that have to be managed, like hair thinning and osteoporosis. Some people also experience liver problems, but Murphy’s so far has been functioning well despite the stress. Generally, Murphy feels well—unless she forgets to take her medication before bed and has to take it in the morning. Her mother says if this happens, she can barely function. “She has to hold onto the walls or a support person to walk, has difficulty speaking or thinking clearly, and is weepy.” It’s only happened twice, though. She’ll have to continue on medication to keep the virus in check—there is no cure for HIV—but it means she can live a mostly normal life (she just has to opt for water at college parties, since she can’t drink on her meds).

Murphy doesn’t announce her HIV status to the grocery store cashier or to new acquaintances out of the blue like she did as a kid, but she does stand in front of crowds and openly talk about having HIV. Her status is right there in her social media bios. She’s upfront and honest about it with friends and classmates at York University in Toronto, where she studies theater. “It’s not really a secret. Pretty much with anyone I meet I’m really open about it now,” she says. Murphy credits growing up in a family of 10 kids, all with differing special needs, and extremely supportive parents, for how she’s been able to live without shame or fear. “They’ve always taught us the importance of being yourself and loving yourself and being comfortable with who you are and to not be ashamed. And so I kind of took their sayings and ran with it.”

She hopes that by using her voice and living as an example, she can help the world be a more understanding place for those who are afraid to speak about having HIV, so they can let go of the shame and feel comfortable in their own skin.

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How schools are getting it wrong on HIV


Leo found out he was HIV positive when he was 12. A few months later, in a personal, social and health education lesson, the teacher was discussing HIV and Aids: “And some of the pupils were joking around, and the teacher said: ‘Guys, it’s not funny! If you have HIV, you don’t have long to live. If you have HIV, you’re going to die.’”

Post via The Guardian


Leo remembers trying to remain composed, but he couldn’t: what he’d heard was so shocking, so unexpected. His teacher noticed the tears running down his face, took him out of the classroom and asked: “What’s wrong?” And Leo said: “Is that what’s going to happen to me, sir? I’m HIV positive.”

The truth is that Leo isn’t, and never was, going to die. Like most of the 1,000 or so school-age children in the UK who are HIV positive, his condition is carefully monitored and well managed by drugs. What he heard from his teacher that day was incorrect: misinformation from someone in a trusted position who a pupil would usually expect to be correct.

Leo’s tale is one of many examples of how wrong schools often get it where HIV is concerned. Students have been humiliated and shocked in their own schools, and some are reported to have been excluded by their school on disclosure of their HIV status.

As well as causing distress to affected pupils, teachers’ misconceptions – when passed on to other children – ensure a new generation is, in turn, misinformed. All of which explains why the Children’s HIV Association (Chiva) is reissuing guidelines for schools this week, and why its projects manager, Magda Conway, says all teachers need to become much more aware of the issues around pupils who are HIV positive or who are affected by HIV through someone close to them. “Teachers aren’t a bad lot, we don’t want to vilify them, but many of them are very ill informed about this,” says Conway. One survey carried out by Chiva last year found that fewer than half of teachers were aware that mother-to-child transmission is the most common route of infection to children, and more than 50% believed HIV could be transmitted via spitting or biting.

“The problem is that many of them got their information about HIV from the notorious Aids campaign of the 1980s – the ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ campaign,” says Conway. That campaign, run at saturation levels by the Department of Health, featured crumbling mountains and a falling tombstone, and a voiceover that spoke of the virus as “a threat to us all”, the cause of “a deadly disease [with] no known cure”.

“Science has come on in leaps and bounds since then – today it’s a manageable health condition, and it needs to be treated that way. Too many teachers still base what they know on the ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ campaign.”

She says schools need to ensure that a pupil who discloses their HIV diagnosis will be sensitively and professionally supported. “If teachers become aware that a child in school is living with HIV, they need to understand that there is no risk to anyone else, and that confidentiality should be respected.” The revised guidelines spell out the most misunderstood key facts, including the crucial issue that HIV cannot be passed on through normal play and normal childhood interactions.

“No one has ever contracted HIV in school, period,” says Conway. “A pupil or a teacher living with HIV poses no risk whatsoever to the school community.”

Those with HIV, the guidelines spell out, can have every expectation of living long and happy lives. And confidentiality is essential to people living with HIV, due to the stigma that remains in society around the virus.

In an attempt to step up awareness, Chiva took Leo and a group of other HIV-positive young people to a meeting at Westminster last week, where they shared their stories with MPs and peers.

Cece, 17, told how her boyfriend found out she was HIV positive and started spreading the story around the school. “I stopped taking my meds because I thought that would be a way of forgetting about it – everything seemed so awful,” she says. “When you’re HIV positive you live a double life, and at some point it’s going to cross over.” And what happened next? “You really find out who your friends are: a group of my friends got the kids together who knew and said, stop spreading these stories. But the point is that it should have been the teachers who did that, not the children.”

Sometimes the ignorance of teachers puts their better-informed pupils into a difficult situation, as happened to another pupil, Evie. “We were in a science lesson and the teacher was asked, how is the HIV virus passed on? And the teacher said, you can get it from kissing someone. And I knew, of course, that this wasn’t true, but I wasn’t able to put the teacher right because how could I have explained how I knew without disclosing my own HIV status, which it wouldn’t have been appropriate to do?”

As heartbreaking as Leo’s experience was that of Shona, who, like Leo, knew she was HIV positive but hadn’t disclosed it to her school. “I was in a humanities class and the teacher started going on about what HIV meant. She said if you have it, your life expectancy is probably going to be about 10 years. And I was in year 9 so about 13 at the time, and it was shocking and confusing. I thought, does that mean I’ll only live another 10 years? It wasn’t what I’d been told, but when you hear a teacher saying something like that, it makes you doubt what you thought you knew.”

Other youngsters told stories about overreaction on the part of their teachers when their status was disclosed. One boy talked of feeling alarm bells were ringing when he had a nose bleed; a girl spoke about how she was offered a nurse to talk to daily. “I said, I don’t need to talk to a nurse every day! I see enough nurses. I just want a normal life.”

The lack of good management for HIV-positive pupils means they sometimes miss out on, for example, school trips – as happened to Cece. “I wanted to go on a skiing trip to Austria when I was in year 8. It was 10 days away, and as soon as I told my mum she was like, how on earth can you do that? You have to take your medicines, you can’t go abroad.” Cece didn’t go on the trip. “But why should I have missed out? The truth is I could easily have gone on that trip if there had been proper support for me in the school.”

What schools need to provide, says Conway, is the potential for a pupil who is HIV positive to tell one trusted person. “You get some schools where it’s discovered that a pupil is HIV positive and there’s a kneejerk reaction based on ignorance. I’ve heard of pupils even being excluded – that happened as recently as 2013,” says Conway. In that instance it was a third party, a community worker, who disclosed the pupil’s HIV status to the school, which then took advice from a national teaching organisation – advice that turned out to be 25 years out of date. At another school she was told about, says Conway, the headteacher told an assembly that a pupil was HIV positive and was being excluded.

The National Association of Head Teachers is backing the Chiva campaign. Its president, Tony Draper, says schools need to make themselves safe places for children who are HIV positive. “They need to ensure that pupils can disclose their status to one person, and no one else needs to know,” he says. “At the moment, pupils are missing school for medical appointments without being able to tell anyone why they’re away. That needs to change.”

The truth is, says Conway, that the treatment of pupils with HIV should be the same as the treatment for any other pupil: there are no special requirements, except the need for one person they can feel confident in disclosing their status to, should they choose to. “The biggest thing we’re fighting is the stigma that surrounds HIV, and the biggest problem for pupils who live with HIV isn’t physical health issues, it’s mental health issues. Children who are HIV positive are more likely to have mental health problems, more likely to self-harm, and more likely to take their own lives. And that’s all connected to the pressures that go with being HIV positive – and that’s what we want schools to help change.”

All children’s names have been changed

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Sex education: how it is taught here and abroad


MPs want sex education to be made compulsory in English state schools. What happens now – and how does this compare with other countries?

The Commons education select committee wants personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) to be given statutory status.

Currently, sex education is not mandatory in council-run primary schools, apart from basic biology in science lessons, and only topics like sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have to be taught in secondaries that are under local authority control. Academies, free schools and independents are not bound by these rules.

Despite the lack of compulsion in sex and relationships education, it is taught in many state schools in England, and guidance has been drawn up for teachers.

All state-funded schools are expected to follow guidance published by the Department for Educationin 2000.

  • This says children should be taught about the importance of marriage and stable relationships.
  • Secondary school pupils should learn about human sexuality, the reasons for delaying sexual activity, the benefits from delaying, and sexual health.
  • Early sexual experimentation is not encouraged.
  • Pupils should learn about contraception, reproduction and emotions.
  • They should also be taught about avoiding unplanned pregnancies.
  • The guidance makes it clear that “inappropriate images” and “explicit material” should not be used.
  • In primaries, pupils should learn about puberty before they reach this stage, and should be taught about how babies are born. In their final year, they should learn about periods and voice breaking.
  • In secondaries, pupils are taught about relationships, love and and the responsibilities of parenthood. There is emphasis on contraception and safe sex, along with the arguments for delaying sex and resisting peer pressure. Students are also expected to understand how the law applies to sexual relationships.

Supplementary guidance for the digital age has been drawn up by the PSHE Association.

  • This makes it clear that “pornography is not the best way to learn about sex because it does not reflect real life, and can therefore be worrying, confusing and frightening for young people”.
  • On sexting, it says pupils “should learn that it is illegal to produce, possess or distribute an indecent image of a person under the age of 18 – even if it’s a picture of themselves”.

So what happens in other countries?


The Sex Education Forum (SEF), which is in favour of mandatory sex education in all English schools, points to Finland as an example of a country that has got things right (after making a mistake).

Sex education was made compulsory in schools in 1970, but became optional in 1994. As a result, according to the SEF, sex education declined and there was a rise in teenage abortions.

Complusion was re-introduced in primary and secondary schools 2006, and the evidence shows that girls are having sex later and using contraception, with a decline in the number of teenage abortions.


Another leader in the field is Holland, where sex education – and information about sexual diversity – are compulsory in all secondary and primary schools.
Holland has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world.


Sex education is mandatory, but, as in England, parents can remove their children from classes.


Although most children over 12 learn about sex, what they are taught varies from state to state.

Some teenagers are taught about “abstinence plus”, which encourages young people to refrain from sex, but also provides information on contraception and sexually-transmitted infections.

Others learn about “abstinence only”, which is centred on sex within marriage and does not mention contraception.

California is the only US state that has never accepted federal funding for abstinence-only programmes.


“According to state requirements, school-based sexuality education should be delivered within the context of health education in all secondary schools,” says a Unesco report.

Lessons are focused on “abstinence only” and sexual morality, but many specialists believe this approach is no longer appropriate.

Despite this, “attempts to introduce elements of education on safer sex to secondary schools have been strongly criticised”.


According to Unesco, from the age of 12, “information about sexual relationships becomes more explicit” in recognition of the fact that “at this age, many Jamaican young people are experimenting with sexual behaviour”.

But “some topics, such as respecting sexual diversity, remain contentious”.

via Channel4

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What Leicestershire parents think about compulsory sex education lessons in primary schools

Sex education: too much emphasis on the mechanics, says Doortje Braeken, who argues for more teaching about sexuality. Photograph: David Levene (The Guardian)

Sex education: too much emphasis on the mechanics, says Doortje Braeken, who argues for more teaching about sexuality. Photograph: David Levene (The Guardian)

Parents in Leicestershire have given the thumbs down to an MPs report which said sex and relationships education lessons should be compulsory in primary schools.

They gave their reactions after the Commons Education Committee said that “age appropriate” personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) should be taught.

But mums in Leicestershire have told the Mercury they thought primary school was too early for youngsters to be taught sex education.

At the moment primary schools do not have to provide sex and relationships education beyond basic biology.

Faiza Ismel, 32, a teacher from Highfields, said: “It’s often difficult and embarrassing for both the teacher and the children.

“Children should be taught about it at home first and then taught about it in secondary school.”

Nicky Gant a 28-year-old support worker from Syston, added: “Let kids be kids. We shouldn’t push it on them.

“They should keep their innocence.”

However, there was a different response to the report from a leading city teaching union official .

Peter Flack, assistant association secretary for the city of Leicester National Union of Teachers, said the principal of SRE being compulsory in primary schools was welcomed.

He said: “One of the problems is that this is portrayed as sex education.

“The emphasis on constructive, positive and sharing relationships is a good thing.

“This is about empathy and commitment and stressing strong and loyal relationships based on trust.

“The NUT very much welcomes anything which contributes to positive relationships.”

The city and county councils have both said their schools already provide a lot of support to youngsters regarding these subjects.

A spokesman for Leicestershire County Council said: “We welcome the report as sex and relationships education taught to a good quality can make a positive contribution towards developing the knowledge, understanding and values of young people.

“We already have a lot of support in place within Leicestershire through the healthy schools programme and Teenage Pregnancy Partnership.

“If the recommendations of the report are accepted by the Government, we’ll continue to support teachers and school leaders and give them the confidence to lead more detailed conversations with parents about the subject.”

A Leicester City Council spokesman said: “We are proud of our SRE policy which places the right emphasis on being safe and happy in a relationship as well as looking at staying safe on the internet or other media.

“We have a strong history in the city’s schools of high quality teaching in this area and this has also contributed to the significant reduction in teenage pregnancies.”

The Commons Education Committee launched its inquiry after inquiry was launched after Ofsted found more than a third of schools nationally were not providing age-appropriate SRE.

Commons Education Committee chairman Graham Stuart said: “Young people have a right to information that will keep them safe.”

Mr Stuart said: “SRE forms an important part of any school’s efforts to safeguard young people from abuse and is particularly needed to protect the most vulnerable children.

“PSHE builds character and resilience and will help young people to live happy and healthy lives.”

Nationally, the report has been welcome by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner of England.

Deputy Commissioner Sue Berelowitz said: “Once again we are calling for age-appropriate relationships and sex education to be made a statutory component of the curriculum.

“Young people need to understand what are and what are not healthy relationships.

Although the report was welcomed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), it said that key questions still need to be answered.

Chris Keates, from the NASUWT, said: “We recognise the Select Committee is trying to address a difficult and contentious issue.

“However, there remain some key questions to be addressed.

“Who will determine what is age appropriate PSHE and SRE and what precisely should be taught?

“Will academies and free schools be required to implement such provision, given that they have freedom to determine their own curriculum?”

The union has also questioned who will provide the specialist support and training to provide the lessons.

She added: “Policymakers need to decide whether SRE is statutory and is treated as such in all schools, in which case parental opt-out cannot be retained.”

via Leicester Mercury

Further reading

British Schools Desperately Need Same-Sex Education

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Sex education comes from porn for more than half of university students


A survey of more than 2500 students found that two thirds received no information about consent in their sex and relationship (SRE) lessons at school.

The NUS is calling for adequate SRE lessons to be a legal requirement.

The Department for Education (DfE) says they have set up a “new expert subject group” to advise schools on SRE.

A DfE spokesperson says: “Good quality relationship education is an important part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain, and our statutory guidance makes clear that it must be taught in an age appropriate way.

“Sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age appropriate manner.”

Academies and free schools in England are also expected to deliver relationship education, the DfE states.  Of the 60% of the students who use porn to improve their knowledge of sex, three quarters said it gave unrealistic expectations.

A fifth of students claimed their SRE lessons made no mention of LGBT issues and more than a third felt their SRE did not rate positively on equality and diversity.

“SRE is failing millions,” says NUS Vice President Colum McGuire.  “NUS runs consent workshops on several campuses, covering a vital aspect of SRE that this government misses.  The current system almost completely ignores LGBT relationships. In a country where we passed an equal marriage bill, this is the height of hypocrisy.”

As part of their New Deal general election manifesto, the NUS is calling for the winner of May’s vote to make sex education a statutory requirement of schools.

MPs on the Education Select Committee are currently investigating SRE in schools and is due to publish its findings soon.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats say they will introduce compulsory SRE. The Conservatives have yet to reveal their plans.

In November, BBC Newsbeat spoke with Luke Alexander, a 19-year-old who is HIV-positive. He’s been campaigning for better education around sexually transmitted infections.

“While I admit that I did know about HIV and my infection is down to my own idiotic neglect of safe sex, it really is a shame that I didn’t know enough,” he said.

“Last year the schools watchdog, Ofsted, claimed more than a third of schools in England were failing to provide pupils with age-appropriate sex and relationships education.

“In my opinion, this continuing problem with sex education is stopping young people from learning anything about how to protect their sexual health and leaving an unlucky number to be afflicted by an incurable disease they haven’t really heard of.”

Story via BBC

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Call for better education on HIV after survey


There’s a call for teenagers to be given clearer education about HIV.

A third of 12 to 17-year-olds wrongly think they can’t catch HIV through unprotected sex.  A panel of nearly 1,000 were surveyed by the charity the MAC Aids Fund between May and June.

Figures from the survey also suggest nearly 90% of teenagers believe they are not at risk of contracting HIV in their lifetime.  When asked if they had ever spoken about the topic, 42% of the panel said they hadn’t.

37% per cent of respondents thought smoking or drinking alcohol would be a greater risk to their health compared to 27% who thought having unprotected sex could be detrimental.

The Departments for Education in England, Scotland and Wales say students must learn about sexually transmitted infections like HIV.  The government has said “As part of the new science GCSE, pupils will also be taught about sexually transmitted infections, which will include HIV for the first time.”

According to Public Health England, in the 10 years to 2012 the number of gay men aged between 15 and 24 who were newly diagnosed with the virus more than doubled from 198 to 443.  The number of cases of men and women in this age group has dropped slightly from 508 to 505.

Their latest figures out in June suggest this age group also had the highest rate of sexually transmitted disease, with the number of new cases on the rise.

Alex Sparrowhawk found out he was HIV positive when he was 24 after having unprotected sex.  He told BBC Newsbeat: “I was aware of HIV, and knew it was a virus and how to catch it.  “But I didn’t think it would happen to someone like me. I presumed it would happen to other people.

It wasn’t something I ever thought of.

He explained that after having unprotected sex he “had a constant cough and the GP couldn’t give me answers so I went to get HIV tested”. Alex said he “couldn’t take it in” when he found out he had the virus.

He added: “I was quite numb. I didn’t understand what it would mean to me.

“There have been times I’ve not felt my best mentally, when I’ve thought ‘Is this really happening to me?’ “I can’t change the past, so I don’t regret it in that sense.

“At the end of the day I just think I was unlucky. But that’s just why I just want to raise awareness because that’s what’s going to happen to someone else.”

Alex, who has set up a blog detailing his experiences, said he didn’t learn about HIV or Aids in school and warned: “What you need to know is HIV is just a virus – it doesn’t care if you are gay or straight, black or white, male or female. It can affect anyone.”

Story via BBC Newsbeat

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Dear Michael Gove, you could have saved me from HIV

L Alexander

A HIV-positive teenager has written an open letter to Michael Gove asking him to make lessons about the virus a compulsory part of sexual education in schools, amid fears of growing ignorance about it among young people.

Luke Alexander, 19, who discovered that he had HIV a year ago, said he received “absolutely no information” on the subject when he was at school and that he may have avoided becoming infected if he had.

In his letter, published in the form of a petition to the Education Secretary on the Change.org website, Mr Alexander says the “vast majority of young people today have little or no common knowledge” about HIV.

“I myself strongly believe that if I (19 years of age) had learnt about HIV during my secondary education, I might have avoided being infected with HIV myself at just 18 years old,” he adds.

Mr Alexander, an employee of Selfridges from Oldbury in the West Midlands, told The Independent that men and women of his generation had never been exposed to the kind of Aids awareness campaigns such as those of the 1980s, so education was now the only way for the message to get through.

“I went around my [sixth form] college and asked a few people what they knew about HIV,” he said. “It was really quite shocking. Two people had never heard of it, and half thought you could transmit it through saliva – there were so many misconceptions.”

Although all schools in England are obliged to teach pupils about HIV and AIDS as part of the science curriculum when they learn about viruses, campaigners say the approach is “patchy” in practice. A survey carried out by the Sex Education Forum in 2011 found that one in four young people learnt nothing about HIV while at school.

Government guidelines state that schools should also cover the issue in Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) classes, but as the subject is not compulsory they can choose not to follow this advice.

Daisy Ellis, acting director of policy at the Terence Higgins Trust, said there was “too much variability” on how sex education was taught in schools and that children should not have to rely on a “random biology lesson” to be taught about HIV.

She added: “There really is no guarantee that young people are getting the right skills, the right knowledge and understanding that they need to have healthy adult relationships. We want to see sex and relationships education as part of the curriculum so it has that equal footing and isn’t just something that’s pushed to one side.”

She added that the rise of free schools – which Mr Gove has played a leading role in promoting – was also a concern as they are not obliged to follow the guidelines for sex education.

Plans to make sex education compulsory in state-funded primary and secondary schools were voted down by MPs last year, but Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to push the change through if his party wins the next general election in 2015.

In Wales, compulsory sex education was introduced in 2002, but in Scotland there is no statutory requirement for schools to teach it.

Susie Parsons, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust: said “There is a chronic lack of commitment and investment in sex and relationships education in the UK, in particular education about HIV… This hands-off and inconsistent approach is failing our young people and is reflected in low awareness and understanding of HIV in this age group.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Pupils must learn about sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS as part of sex and relationship education.”

Story via The Independent 

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