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Facts for Life


Supporting Information


Parents, teachers, peer leaders and other role models should provide adolescents with a safe environment and a range of life skills that can help them make healthy choices and practise healthy behaviour.

It is important for children to learn about HIV at an early age. When children become adolescents, they need accurate and full information on making and negotiating healthy life choices. This will help them avoid becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Adolescents need to be supported in learning the life skills that can help them protect themselves in situations where they could be vulnerable to HIV infection. These skills include problem solving, decision-making, goal setting, critical thinking, communication, assertiveness and self-awareness. Adolescents also need skills for coping with stressful or confrontational situations.

Adolescents and young people look to parents, teachers, peer leaders and other role models for guidance. These role models should develop their base of knowledge on HIV so they will know how to communicate about HIV and how to share important life skills.

Adolescents need to know the risks of HIV. They need to understand how it is passed through unprotected sex with an infected person or through the use of contaminated needles or syringes for injecting drugs. They should know about safer practices and the consequences of lifestyle choices. They should also know how HIV is not transmitted so they can reject myths and prevent discrimination against people living with HIV that is based on unfounded fears of contagion.

It is important to know and reduce the risks of getting HIV from unprotected sex:

The risk of getting HIV can be reduced if people do not have sex. If they have sex, correct and consistent use of male or female condoms is important. To reduce risk, people can:

  • decrease their number of sex partners
  • stay in a mutually faithful relationship with a partner(s) who is not infected
  • have safer sex – sex without penetration (where the penis does not enter the vagina, rectum or mouth) or penetrative sex using a condom correctly (as the directions indicate) and consistently (during every act of penetrative sex).

In combination with safer practices, male circumcision reduces the possibility of transmission of HIV infection from female to male.

The more sex partners people have, the greater the risk that one of them will have HIV and pass it on (if they do not use male or female condoms consistently and correctly).

However, anyone can have HIV – it is not restricted to those with many sex partners. People who do not show signs of infection may carry the virus. Testing is the only sure way to tell.

A well-lubricated condom is essential for protection during vaginal or anal intercourse.

  • The male condoms that come with lubrication (slippery liquid or gel) are less likely to tear during handling or use. If the condom is not lubricated enough, a water-based lubricant, such as silicone or glycerin, should be added. If such lubricants are not available, saliva can be used (although this can transmit other infections, such as herpes). Lubricants made from oil or petroleum should never be used with a male condom because they can damage the condom. Oil or petroleum lubricants include cooking oil, shortening, mineral oil, baby oil, petroleum jellies and most lotions.
  • The female condom is a safe alternative to the male condom. The most commonly used female condom is a soft, loose-fitting sheath that lines the vagina. It has a soft ring at each end. The ring at the closed end is used to put the device inside the vagina; it holds the condom in place during sex. The other ring stays outside the vagina and partly covers the labia. Before sex begins, the woman inserts the female condom with her fingers. Only water-based lubricants should be used with female condoms made of latex, whereas water-based or oil-based lubricants can be used with female condoms made of polyurethane or artificial latex (nitrile).

HIV can be transmitted through oral sex, although available information suggests the risk is minimal as compared to vaginal and anal sex. However, oral sex can transmit STIs which can increase the risk of HIV transmission. In the case of oral-penile sex, a male condom is recommended.

Because most sexually transmitted infections can be spread through genital contact, a condom should be used before genital contact begins.

Drinking alcohol or taking drugs interferes with judgement. Even those who understand the risks of HIV and the importance of safer sex may become careless after drinking or using drugs.

People who have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are at greater risk of getting HIV and spreading HIV to others:

STIs, including HIV, are infections that are spread through sexual contact. They can be spread through the exchange of body fluids (semen, vaginal fluid or blood) or by contact with the skin of the genital area. STIs are spread more easily if there are lesions such as blisters, abrasions or cuts. STIs often cause lesions, which contribute to spreading the infection.

STIs often cause serious physical suffering and damage.

Any STI, such as gonorrhoea or syphilis, can increase the risk of HIV infection or HIV transmission. Anyone suffering from an STI has a much higher risk of becoming infected with HIV if they have unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person.

  • People who suspect they have an STI should see a trained health worker promptly to be diagnosed and treated. They should avoid sexual intercourse or practise safer sex (non-penetrative sex or sex using a male or female condom).
  • Correct and consistent use of male and female condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse – vaginal, anal or oral – can greatly reduce the spread of most STIs, including HIV.
  • People who have an STI should tell their partner(s). Unless both partners are treated for an STI, they will continue infecting each other. Most STIs are curable.

Some STI symptoms:

  • A man may have pain while urinating; a discharge from his penis; or sores, blisters, bumps or rashes on the genitals or inside the mouth.
  • A woman may have vaginal discharge that has a strange colour or bad smell, pain or itching around the genital area, and pain or bleeding from the vagina during or after intercourse. More severe infections can cause fever, pain in the abdomen and infertility.
  • Many STIs in women and some in men produce no noticeable symptoms.

Not every problem in the genital area is an STI. Some infections, such as candidiasis (yeast infection) and urinary tract infections, are not spread by sexual intercourse. But they can cause great discomfort in the genital area.

HIV can be spread by unsterilized, contaminated needles or syringes, most often those used for injecting drugs, and by other instruments:

An unsterilized needle or syringe can pass HIV and other infections, such as hepatitis, from one person to another if contaminated with infected blood. Nothing should be used to pierce a person's skin unless it has been sterilized.

People who inject themselves with drugs or have unprotected sex with injecting drug users are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV. People who inject drugs should always use a clean needle and syringe. They should never use another person's needle or syringe.

Injections should be given only by a trained health worker using an auto-disable syringe (a syringe that can be used only once).

Any kind of cut using an unsterilized object such as a razor or knife can transmit HIV. The cutting instrument must be fully sterilized for each person, including family members, or rinsed with bleach and/or boiling water.

Equipment for dental treatment, tattooing, facial marking, ear or body piercing, and acupuncture is not safe unless the equipment is sterilized for each person. The person performing the procedure should take care to avoid any contact with blood during the procedure.