Public Health Sex Education in HIV/AIDS Prevention
Jessica M. Sales, Ralph J. DiClemente
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 February 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0115


HIV/AIDS is the largest epidemic in modern history, resulting in approximately 25 million deaths since 1981, with an estimated 33.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Since the discovery of HIV/AIDS in 1981, researchers have been working to combat the spread of this devastating illness. In spite of recent attempts, there is neither a vaccine to prevent the acquisition of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, nor a cure for the illness once it is contracted. Thus, education-based prevention programs or “sex education” programs are among the strongest means of curtailing the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is widely accepted that young people have a right to sex education because it is a means by which they can protect themselves against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV infection. Sex education programs, implemented in diverse venues including schools or medical clinics, typically provide information to young people to help them form healthy attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, relationships, and intimacy. Sex education programs often also provide skills-based training to accompany knowledge so that young people can make informed decisions about their behavior, as well as feel capable of acting on and communicating those decisions to others. Sex education programs designed to reduce sexual and drug-associated HIV risk behaviors are, for all intents and purposes, today’s “HIV vaccine,” but there has been a great deal of debate on what constitutes appropriate content for sex education programs for young people. Recent reviews have identified effective components of sex education programs/interventions, and also many effective, evidence-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs for diverse adolescent populations.

General History of HIV/AIDS

In 1981 the United States became the first country to officially recognize a strange and fatal illness among a small number of gay men. The first official documentation of the condition now known as HIV/AIDS was published in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1981. The CDC report details the cases of five young gay men hospitalized with rare cancers or serious pneumonias. Timeline: A Brief History of HIV/AIDS provides an excellent timeline of the HIV epidemic. Today, the CDC’s HIV/AIDS Surveillance Reports continue to offer updated statistics on HIV/AIDS in the United States, and UNAIDS: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS provides updated global surveillance reports.

  • AEGiS. Timeline: A Brief History of HIV/AIDS.

    This online resource provides a brief yet detailed timeline of the history of HIV/AIDS from the first known case to the present.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1981. Pheumocystis pneumonia—Los Angeles. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 30.21: 1–3.

    This report contains a detailed description of the first US cases of AIDS and provides an interesting account of the “birth” of a disease that is quite familiar in the early 21st century.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Surveillance Reports.

    The annual HIV Surveillance Report contains tabular and graphic information about US AIDS and HIV cases, including data by state, metropolitan statistical area, mode of exposure to HIV, sex, race/ethnicity, age group, vital status, and category of case definition.

  • UNAIDS: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

    This online resource provides updated global HIV/AIDS Surveillance Reports for countries around the world and serves as a good general reference for gaining a better understanding of the global epidemic. Additionally, this resource is available in a variety of languages, including English, French, and Spanish.

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