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Sex Ed: More Than Contraception & Procreation

Posted by Ryan Morgan on April 02, 2013 at 12:00 PM

When the crew at Tell Them asked me to do a blog for them about 25 years of HIV and sex education, I wasn’t surprised. Having lived through 27 years of being HIV positive, I like to think I know a little something about HIV. Having just happily turned 51, I have to face up to the reality that I probably know a little something about history too. Recently some of my history has been clashing with my present.

Michael BivensLooking back at my history, there was a time when many people simply equated sex education with the basic teachings of contraception and procreation. It was all about happy couples and what happened to the “bad girl” down the street. Proper sex ed should have been teaching about risk behavior. While the consequences could be pretty life-altering, it’s the risk behavior of unprotected sex that leads to those bad consequences - like chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV or unwanted pregnancies.

A young gay man back in the '80s would have believed himself “safe” even if he wasn't using condoms, since pregnancy was not a consequence of his sex acts. If sex education had been better, it would have been teaching every child (whatever their orientation might be) about risk reduction and the HIV epidemic might not have even gotten off the ground here in the States.

Before we knew what was happening, our friends were sick and dying. Before science started searching for answers, many gay men didn’t know that they needed better protection and risk reduction. What we were left with was nearly a whole generation of gay men, who would have been between 40 - 70 years old now, who are simply gone. While I have been very lucky to have had two long-term (10 yrs.) partners, neither one is with me anymore as they are part of this missing group of gay men.

Now that history is colliding with my present and I see that this failure to properly teach about risk behavior is still continuing. Recently, I got a call from a couple, my best friends in the world, who had been with me through thick and thin of losing my two partners to AIDS and being hospitalized several times myself. They called with the surprising news that their 16 year old daughter, who has been just like a niece to me, had gotten pregnant.

Of course, I support any decision she makes about this pregnancy, but I was very upset with her. How could she have left herself open to both getting pregnant and contracting HIV (not to mention other STDs)? Having lived through the experience of losing my last partner, how she could have not known to protect herself?  That was the most upsetting news she could have told me.

Obviously sex ed still hasn’t been teaching enough about risk behaviors if not only was she not using birth control but not taking extra measures to avoid HIV and other STDs.

I’m glad I told her how I felt though, because I could tell it made a big impact on her when she told me the sex of her child and the name she picked out - a name guaranteed to pass a small part of my history to her friends. In a few months, James Randall will be born and each time his mom explains how she came up with that name, she’ll tell the story of my two partners, Jim and Randy, and why they are no longer with us.

Make sure legislators know that you care about reforming sex ed!  Email them today to vote "yes" on the Healthy Youth Amendment, H. 3435. 


Michael enthusiastically serves as the Communication Chair for the SC HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Task Force, designing their website and using social media to help members of the Task Force better communicate with each other, partners, and state legislators.


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