Our son told us he is gay. Will he get AIDS?

If your son is mature you have little to worry about. Most gay men practice “safe sex,” i.e. they wear a condom that prevents the actual transfer of semen and hence that of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) it may contain. (If untreated HIV eventually causes AIDS.) In addition HIV infections are no longer fatal. Powerful antiretroviral drugs (ART) keep the HIV virus from multiplying. Today the life expectancy of HIV-positive patients is almost the same as that of the average population. Treatment however is extremely expensive, cumbersome and the drugs have serious side effects.

Your concern is more realistic if your son is a young daredevil. Each year there are 50,000 new HIV infections in the US. Though every sexually active person is at risk, gay men are at highest risk, especially if they are African-American and young. In certain circles having unprotected sex is considered hip and “macho.” It is part of feeling young and immortal. When I was young, I fortunately listened to an uncle who told me “to be good, but, if I could not, to be careful.”

I have always believed that the hardest part of parenthood was not the work or the money but the fact that your happiness is forever linked to that of another being over whose lifestyle you have no control. As a parent you may not be able to insist that your children have safe sex. You may, however, stress, in words and deeds, how much you love them and how much their good health and happiness is crucial to your own wellbeing.

I found it always difficult to talk about sex with my children. I did speak to my son about condoms and abstinence when AIDS first appeared on the US medical horizon. David shut me up quickly telling me that “he knew more about AIDS” than I did. I must admit that I was relieved when the topic was shelved. Since he did get infected and died, I sometimes reproach myself for not having screamed louder. My warning probably would not have changed matters. At the time, so little was known about this mysterious new disease that it almost wiped out a whole generation of young gay men. Preventive measures include wearing condoms, abstinence, preventive treatment with HIV drugs, frequent testing, and being sure that one’s sexual partner(s) is HIV-negative.

Today physicians, health agencies, schools, as well as the gay community itself are aware of the importance of “safe sex” and chances are that young gay men have been in contact with one or the other of these widely available services. Excellent information is available on the Internet. Just put “HIV/AIDS prevention” in your search box. The “Act Against AIDS” site at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is an excellent source to start with.

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