MTV Forum Gets Teens Talking About Sex, AIDS

Young adults have some potentially lifesaving relationship decisions to make. This was the message running through a teen HIV/AIDS prevention forum Monday at the Experience Music Project, which involved hundreds of Seattle high school students. The program, part of MTV's yearlong "Fight For Your Rights: Protect Yourself" campaign, was held to rally interest in MTV's AIDS Awareness concert being taped at EMP this Thursday, and in Cape Town, South Africa, later this month for broadcast on World AIDS Day. The Dave Matthews Band and Missy Elliot will be among the performers at the EMP portion.

The idea was to get teens talking frankly and asking questions about how to pursue a sex life without risking infection from HIV and other STDs. Teens asked questions like: Why are blood and semen so effective at transmitting HIV? How is it that kissing cannot spread the disease? Is it wise for a woman to conceive children with an infected man, and vice-versa? And why do African-Americans make up more than half of all HIV cases reported among 13- to 24-year-olds?

Some of the answers are complicated. But MTV, with its corporate connections and edgy, youth-oriented approach, wants to bring some clarity. "Given that this is a global disease, we've got to speak as loudly as possible," MTV spokesperson Stephen Friedman said. "We're hoping to reach 2 billion young people" with the music show. The network is using music, advertising and its roving microphone to influence young minds on AIDS issues.

MTV, which organized the forum with Seattle-based Lifelong AIDS Alliance, broke the ice Monday with a short video, "It Could Be You: True Life," featuring accounts from HIV-positive young people and a question session with a panel of prevention experts hosted by video jockey Quddus.

MTV received funding from AT&T Broadband and foundations representing Bill and Melinda Gates as well as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, among other sponsors. Experts stressed that capping the AIDS epidemic requires action at the most intimate level -- chiefly, using condoms to prevent HIV's spread, and getting tested. Jennifer, an HIV-positive woman in the educational video, said, "If you have [HIV], you can live powerfully. But if you don't have it, you don't want it."

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