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Should Teens Be Tested for HIV?

Q: Should your sexually active teenager be tested for HIV?

A: Yes.

That seems pretty straightforward. And yet it’s news.

A new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that all sexually active teenagers should be tested for HIV. The recommendation is hardly surprising. What’s a shock to me is that it’s new. Where has the AAP been for the last 30 years?

Jezebel’s confusing response to this news seems to suggest both that it’s an overreaction to a relatively small risk and that it’s a good public health move. I’m going to have to come down firmly on the side of it being a good idea. Such a good one that I thought it was the standard already.

In my world, HIV testing should be routine for sexually active person, whether or not they believe they’re in a monogamous relationship. People cheat, people have past mistakes, it’s just a good idea to make STI testing part of your annual physical. No matter how old you are.

The ladies at Jezebel seem to think the AAP is doing a bit of scare-mongering. They write:

Teens currently engulfed in the throes of teenage hormone madness were born in the 1990s, which means that most of them don’t remember the all-encompassing AIDS paranoia hoisted onto kids that came of age during the era of Weekly Reader special AIDS issues that explained that it was okay to hug people who had HIV, but that, in no uncertain terms, if you’re going to have sex, you should wear a condom or risk catching a fatal disease (this knowledge was extraordinarily useful to people who were 8 in 1991). Some experts worry that without fear of imminent death lurking in everyone else’s pants, teenagers are likely to engage in high-risk behaviors that could lead to another wave of HIV infections.

The thing is, if you’re going to have sex, you should use a condom. There’s no need to be constantly afraid, but practicing good sexual health habits is kind of like wearing a bike helmet. Most of the time, it won’t matter, but you’ll be really glad you were prepared if the day ever comes when it does.

What do you think? Should sexually active teens be getting tested for HIV?

Photo: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

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