Generational Differences: I Learned About AIDS In Fifth Grade

safe sex chalkboardThe very first time I can recall learning anything about AIDS was when I was 10 years old. Tidbits about the virus or myths about contraction perhaps passed through my pre-teen consciousness before that instructive health lesson, but I didn’t learn anything constructive until then.

I remember a lady giving our rowdy auditorium of fifth graders a run through of what to expect in puberty, how a pregnancy occurs, and what constitutes as heterosexual intercourse  — a tiny portion of which was dedicated to AIDS and HIV. I don’t remember the adults in the room getting too graphic with us as they explained that the disease was transmissble through semen or blood, the lady at the front citing sliced palms for friendship promises as a poor idea.

My family took me to see my favorite childhood movie in theatres that year — Practical Magic, and I shook my little head as Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock joined their bloodied hands in a testament to their sisterhood. The lady from the demonstration revisited me in that dark theatre, and I knew instantly that such a practice was unsafe — regardless of how much you trusted someone.

I went into the sixth grade with a completely different understanding of AIDS and HIV than kids even a mere 10 years prior did. By age 11, I could tell any kid on the lunch benches that you wouldn’t get AIDS from sharing a beverage or from even kissing someone with the virus. I knew well before sexual maturity that AIDS couldn’t be contracted from sharing a toilet or a hug — something that children of the 80s were sometimes lead to believe.

More in-depth discussions about HIV/AIDS prevention continued in the seventh grade and were revisited yet again in the classic, awkward high school sex ed class. Actual condoms and discussions about birth control came then, but HIV/AIDS was always a topic of conversation.

Hearing my older colleagues and friends share horror stories about being fearful to even touch someone with HIV/AIDS makes me see how much awareness and education have impacted young adults like me, who grew up not only knowing more but also taking that knowledge for granted. It’s truly remarkable that in just a generation, a real understanding of the virus is accessible thanks to quality sex education based on facts, not mythologies.

For more information on World AIDS Day, go to

(photo: Shutterstock)

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