The CDC’s most recent HIV Surveillance Report contains the first-ever comprehensive data set allowing researchers to map HIV infections across the entire country. As the agency explains, their new data paints a “complete picture of diagnosed HIV infection in the U.S.,” revealing potential trends in infections across different regions. At least one clear trend emerges among Southern states, where the concentration of HIV infections tend to be higher:
It’s likely no coincidence that many of those same states lack the comprehensive sexual education requirements that would help educate their residents about HIV transmission from an early age. Health classes in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana aren’t required to provide any kind of medically accurate information about HIV. And in two of those states — Texas and Florida — public schools don’t have to offer any type of sexual health education whatsoever.
In fact, just 20 states across the country mandate both sex education and HIV education, while the rest of country’s youth are growing up with significant gaps in their knowledge about sexual health. That’s especially troubling amid reports that, even though new cases of HIV in the U.S. are beginning to stabilize, young people still continue to put themselves at risk for the virus.
The HIV epidemic continues to take a disproportionate toll on men who have sex with men (MSM) — 62 percent of all HIV diagnoses are attributed to male-to-male sexual behavior, even though MSM represent just two percent of the U.S. population — yet the nation’s sexual health requirements also lag behind when it comes to sexual orientation. None of the southern states with the highest rates of HIV infection require public schools to provide LGBT-inclusive information in their health classes — and Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas actually stipulate that teachers must impart negative, shame-based information about homosexuality.