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Fact Sheet: Talking to Youth About HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2001

Costa Rican Youth
Costa Rican Youth. Photo: Armando Waak, PAHO
Young people need information, skills, and support to protect themselves from HIV. Positive communication about sexuality and risky behaviors can have a profound influence in helping young people to establish individual values and in making healthy decisions.

Conversation Starters

Talking to youth about HIV/AIDS can often be difficult and uncomfortable because it requires talking about issues such as sex and drugs. To start a discussion, it may be helpful to try these strategies:
  • Ask what the young people are learning about HIV/AIDS in health, science and other classes.

  • Start a conversation about choices and consequences. Point out that every choice has consequences and that young people control and are responsible for their decisions. Begin by looking at choices such as watching television versus doing homework and discuss the positive and negative consequences for each decision. Move into more complicated choices, such as abstaining from or engaging in sexual activity.

  • Reassure young people that starting a discussion about HIV/AIDS does not mean you assume that they are having sex or using drugs.


  • Look to newspapers, magazines, radio and television for references to HIV/AIDS and ask what they think about it.

  • Films, videos and local events such as AIDS walks or fairs can serve as important conversation starters.

  • Provide resources such as a toll-free number in case there is a question you can't answer or a youth doesn't feel comfortable discussing these issues with you.

Ideas for What to Say

To children:
  • AIDS is a very serious disease caused by a virus. There is no cure for AIDS.

  • The virus that causes AIDS can be spread by getting infected blood into your blood. Don't mix your blood with anyone else's to become "blood brothers or sisters."

  • You cannot get AIDS from a mosquito or any other insect. The virus that causes AIDS can't live inside bugs.

  • Many different types of people are living with HIV/AIDS today -- male and female, rich and poor, and people of all races.

  • You can't get AIDS from a person who is sitting next to you at school or on the bus. You will not get AIDS from hugging or cheek-kissing someone with AIDS.

  • You can play with a friend who has AIDS just as you can with a friend who doesn't have AIDS.

  • HIV/AIDS is not spread by eating at the same table, using the same water fountains, shaking hands, or swimming with someone with HIV.

  • You can't tell by looking at someone if he or she is infected with HIV.

  • Treat people living with HIV/AIDS with respect.

To young adults:

  • AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is a serious and fatal disease of the human immune system that is caused by a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). A person will not develop AIDS unless he or she has first been infected with HIV.

  • HIV can be spread through oral, anal, or vaginal sexual activity. The sexual transmission can be from male to female, male to male, female to male, or female to female. HIV may be in an infected person's blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk. It can enter the body through cuts or sores on tissue in the vagina, penis, or rectum, and sometimes the mouth. The cuts may be so small that you don't know they're there.

  • You can become infected with HIV from even one instance of unprotected sex. While complete abstinence is the surest way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV, protecting yourself with a latex condom or barrier at every sexual encounter is very important.

  • Most birth control methods like the "Pill" or diaphragms do not protect you from HIV.

  • Whether you inject drugs or steroids or use needles for tattoos or body piercing, sharing needles places you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.

  • Doing drugs of any kind, including alcohol or inhalants, can cloud your judgment. You could become less careful about having sex or injecting drugs -- behaviors that place you at risk for HIV.

This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication I Care ... Do You? Youth and AIDS in the 21st Century.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Activities, Lesson Plans and Other Resources to Prevent HIV in Young People


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