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What Parents and Providers Need to Know About HIV Risk and Teens

December 3, 2015

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Minorities and Young Women in the U.S.

Teens living with HIV come from all different backgrounds; however recent studies show that over half of all newly infected American youths are African-American, even though only 17 percent of all US teens are African-American.

Unlike young men, the vast majority of young women get HIV through heterosexual sex (sex between a male and female). Young black women ages 13 to 24 accounted for almost six in ten new HIV infections among US teens and young adults in 2010.

Certain factors may put young women at higher risk for sexually transmitted HIV:

  • Not being aware of their partners' risk factors
  • Lack of power in relationships
  • Having sex with older men who are more likely to be living with HIV
  • HIV is transmitted from men to women much more easily than from women to men
  • Younger women have a less mature genital tract that may be more likely to get tears or abrasions during vaginal intercourse
  • A younger woman's cervix (entrance to the womb) is still developing until age 18. A young woman's "immature cervix" is one with thinner cells that provides less of a barrier to HIV than the cervix of an older, mature woman.

Alcohol and Drug Use

Young people in some countries, including the US, use alcohol and drugs at high rates. Many teens are curious about drugs and feel pressure from peers to try them. Teens are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex, when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In 2011, almost one in four sexually active American high school students drank alcohol or used drugs before the last time they had sex. Runaways and other homeless young people are at high risk for HIV infection if they trade sex for drugs or money.

Drug use can also increase the risk of HIV infection if needles are shared. This includes using needles for injecting drugs, injecting steroids, piercing the ears and body, and tattooing.

Talking to Your Teen About HIV

Teens hear about HIV at school, from friends, and on the TV, radio, and Internet. They generally know some basic information. However, what they know may be incorrect and many teens would like to know more. Teens need accurate, age-appropriate information that includes the following:

  • What HIV is and how it is spread
  • How to protect themselves
  • Where to get tested for HIV
  • How AIDS differs from HIV
  • How to talk with their parents and partners about HIV/AIDS
  • How to use a condom correctly
  • How to make healthy choices about abstinence or sexual activity

Parents can make a difference. CDC research has shown that it is important for parents to talk early and clearly to their children about sex and values. Ongoing conversations about sex, HIV, STDs, and pregnancy prevention can help teens wait until they are older to have sex and make responsible decisions about sexual behaviors when they do start having sex. Awareness, education, and communication can reduce the risk of teens becoming infected with HIV.

So let's start talking! (See The Well Project's "Talking with Your Children about HIV")

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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