ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Filtering by Category: HIV/AIDS

Is HIV/AIDS still a problem?

There seems to be little in the news these days about HIV/AIDS unless it’s a story about a possible cure or vaccine. So is it still out there? Is it still a problem? Yes on all accounts. While there seems to be hope of a cure or vaccine, it’s still a long way off. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in 2009, 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV/AIDS. They also noted that there were almost 50,000 new HIV infections in 2009. While people are living longer with HIV, the newest infections are likely to be drug resistant. An HIV infected person is less contagious when they are on their medications. However if they go off them, even for a short period of time, they are contagious. If you were to get HIV from that person, all the medication they took in the past wouldn’t work on you.

Because the news media doesn’t report much about HIV/AIDS anymore, and it is becoming more of a chronic disease and less of a death sentence (in the U.S.), there is less funding available for treatment and prevention.

The best way to get rid of HIV for future generations is to not get it in the first place.

Get the facts about HIV/AIDS.




Q&A: I feel pretty awkward about buying condoms. What should I do?

Buying condoms makes most of us a little self-conscious.  It is not a grab and go sort of thing.  Even when they are on the shelf at the store like a carton of milk or a candy bar, it can still feel AWKWARD; like the whole store is watching you! But, in reality, people are way more busy in their own world then to be monitoring what we are doing.  Take a deep breath, man-up (or woman-up if you are being the responsible one) and be proud knowing that you are doing the right thing to protect yourself and your partner.  And if it is still just too awkward, you can always buy them online.  Get your partner in on this part as well as it is definitely worth the effort! When you do buy condoms, there are some things to consider. Get latex for its anti-HIV effectiveness.  Check if your partner has any latex allergies (unlikely).  Also make sure you buy the proper size.

Then, when you get home, read the instructions and remember them so they will work to keep you protected. Practice alone or even better, together.

What Happened Last Night?

You’re confused, nauseous, dizzy, and embarrassed so you quickly get dressed and slip out of the house. Back at your own place, you sleep a while longer and then ask your friends why they ditched you. To your surprise, they never saw you. The twenty unopened texts confirm their claims. Pretty sure you had sex, you lie in bed for the rest of the day trying to figure out what to do. Finally, on Sunday, your friend’s sister convinces you to go the hospital and tell them that you’ve been raped. Sadly, it’s too late. The Rohypnol used to drug you is already out of your system and your attacker didn’t leave evidence because he (thankfully) used a condom. Going out tonight? Protect yourself.

  • If someone wants to buy you a drink, go with them to the bar and watch it being poured.
  • If you only had one drink and you feel drunk, call 911 or get help immediately.
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended. If you do, dump it!
  • Open your own bottles.
  • Don’t take a drink from someone else.
  • Avoid community drinks.
  • Stay away from punch bowls.
  • If it tastes or smells funny or different, then it probably is!

Have your designated driver keep an eye out for those who are drinking and what everyone is drinking as well.

Resources: National Directory of Rape Crises Centers Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE

Q&A: If you have HIV or AIDS and take medication for it, are you still contagious?

Yes. Someone who is positive and taking antiretroviral medication is less contagious than someone who isn’t.  The goal of medication is to make the HIV virus undetectable.  Even if it is undetectable, the person is still carrying the virus.  Is it worth the risk?  The best way to avoid spreading the virus is to use a condom. Check out more information about this at AIDS.gov.

2 for the Price of 1? Creating a Combo Anti-Heroin/HIV Vaccine

The Baltimore-Washington area is yearly cited as one of the largest concentrations in the country of people who are HIV+. It is also one of the top areas of concentration of those engaged in IV drug use.  A breakthrough of a combined anti-heroin and HIV vaccine seems too good to be true. But the National Institute on Drug Abuse is investing millions of dollars in research based on the hope that a vaccine just might work. If this double vaccine does work, it would go a long way to reducing the spread of the virus. This would be good news for everyone, as the disease ends up affecting non-drug users as well as users. The possibility of offering effective medical interventions might make the kind of impact we have been looking for all these years, in limiting the epidemic. This new double vaccine, in addition to home testing for HIV, new medicines that reduce the viral load of those who have the virus (thus reducing the chances of infecting others), as well as new medicines helping those who are HIV- avoid contracting the virus when sexually active with HIV+ partners, is bolstering the hopes of many who are affected, if not infected, by the disease. More on home testing for HIV. More on new medicines.

Q & A: I want to get my tongue pierced! Are there any negative side effects that I should be aware of?

The tongue is almost constantly in motion, and it is located in the mouth, which is a hotbed of bacteria. These two environmental factors sometimes jeopardize healthy healing. Fortunately, there are ways to greatly reduce the risk of infection. Check out the piercing studio before getting pierced. Studios which are members of the Association of Professional Piercers are held to very high standards of cleanliness, whereas many body art studios are often unregulated.  Check that they have an autoclave and ultrasonic cleanser for sterilizing instruments and that the piercer is skilled and experienced at this craft. Also, avoid going to a shop that uses piercing guns, which are much more difficult to clean and inflict greater tissue damage!

After you get pierced, you will probably be advised to avoid playing with the piercing, to wash your hands before touching it, to rinse your mouth a couple of times a day with diluted mouthwash or sea salt water for one minute, and most importantly, avoid oral sex (think HIV prevention) and open mouth kissing until the area has fully recovered.

Q&A: Can you get HIV by kissing someone with a cut in his or her mouth?

It’s possible, but extremely rare. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is spread primarily through unprotected sex or sharing needles with a person who already has HIV.

Generally speaking, kissing is a safe behavior. You cannot get HIV from closed-mouth kissing and there are no known cases of someone getting infected through saliva alone. Although the saliva of an infected person can contain trace amounts of HIV, it will not transmit the virus.  As one of our speakers says, “It would take a person drinking a bathtub of saliva to run the risk.”

However, with deep “French” kissing, there is a remote risk of HIV infection if there are open sores or blood in the mouth and if one of the people has HIV. The blood from the infected person needs a way to get into the other person’s bloodstream, such as a cut or open sore. So that means you should abstain from “French”  kissing  with someone who has any open sores, cuts or blood in his or her mouth, unless you know for sure that the person does not have HIV.  (Do you really want to kiss someone with blood in their mouth, anyway?)

Remember, you cannot tell by looking at people whether or not they have HIV. It is people just like you and me, who look like you and me, who carry the virus.

For more information about HIV transmission and how to protect yourself, click here.


The Pocket Guide to Spring Break

That’s right, boys and girls; it’s that time of year again. It’s the week you waited for all semester. You have pulled many all nighters and crammed for exams. You have submitted your 7 page papers three minutes before the midnight deadline and passed (hopefully) your midterms. Now it’s time for some relaxation, that’s right, everybody; SPRING BREAK IS HERE! Spring break to most of us is a time for relaxation, time to go home see your family, time for a little traveling, and of course time for a little partying. With most parties, there are the majority who just want to relax, drink and have a good time. However, every party has its pooper, and there are those that take it to another level and end up sick, hospitalized, drugged and/or injured. From my experience the last few years - here’s your pocket list of DO’s And Don’ts for spring break.

  • As always, if you drink (obviously if you are over 21), DO NOT DRIVE!  Funerals we’ve been to are real downers.
  • Do not take drinks from someone else! If you’re at spring break and drinking, you probably are not new to this and you know the realities of someone slipping something  into your drink.
  • If you are having any sexual contact, USE A CONDOM! Remember STD’s can be transferred through oral sex as well.
  • Many of the spring break spots are located on beaches.  Do not drink and swim.  IF you are drinking on the beach, make sure you are also drinking water, since both alcohol and the sun dehydrate you.
  • Be alert. While you may be responsible, that does not mean that others are acting responsibly. Look out for drunk drivers and potentially belligerent and violent drunks.
  • Have a buddy with you at all times.
  • Stay off balconies. Falling from balconies is known to be one of the leading causes of injuries and deaths at spring breaks.

Have fun. Be “Spring Break” Happy.

It COULD Happen to You

Most of us don't think we're personally at risk for HIV.  We're young, we know our circle of friends, life is good.  But, one-third of all new HIV infections in the United States each year happen to people between the ages of 13-29.  That means at least two teenagers and young adults in this country are infected with HIV EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY.  Over the next hour, as you look at the people you pass on campus or see at workor in a club, maybe you should wonder, "will it be you?"  Then take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, "could it be me?" December 1 is World AIDS Day.  It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.  But it should also be a time to wake up to the fact that none of us is immune from becoming infected and to take a hard look at how we might be putting ourselves at risk.  You can learn more about how to prevent becoming infected by checking out the HIV/AIDS section of this website and by watching our video "A Life Changing Thing."

Only by taking precautions and protecting ourselves can we really breathe a sigh of relief every hour of every day knowing we won't become part of the statistics.

Q&A: "It seems like everybody but me is having sex and I am getting a lot of pressure to do it, too."

There are many people who feel like you do – that everyone else is doing it but not them. Married people think that singles are doing it more while singles think that married couples are. And in college it must be that simply everyone must be doing it all the time because everyone knows…. Go Ask Alice, an online health information service from Columbia University, cited a recent study on a number of American campuses that “80% of students had zero or 1 sexual partner the preceding year.”  Furthermore, “students in this study perceived their fellow students were more sexually active than they actually were. In fact, 59% of students reported having no sexual activity within the past 30 days.”  This relied on the respondents to define for themselves what “sexually active” was.

If you are considering having sex with someone, check out our video to keep yourself physically protected from HIV.

Q and A: When and how do I bring up the idea that we should both get tested for STD’s?

When and how do I bring up the idea that we should both get tested for STD’s and share the information with each other when we are starting a relationship? The beginning of a relationship is the best time to get to know someone before you decide whether or not you want to have sex with him or her.  We all show up in relationships with our “game face” - meaning that we don’t let the other person see all of our goofy traits and habits in the beginning.  If you wait and get to know the person, you’ll see who he or she really is.  Then you can decide from there if you want to have sex.

Sex is a very grown up activity with very grown up consequences.  We feel very strongly that if you can’t have an open and honest conversation with your partner, then you probably shouldn’t have sex in the first place.  If you wait and get to know the person, and that person is trustworthy, then you’ll hopefully know what he or she has been up to for the past few months.

Testing should be brought up during the first conversation about sex.  It’s a serious topic but it’s also okay to keep the conversation casual.  “I read so much in health class about STD’s that I think we should get tested before we go any further.”  If the person respects you, then he or she will go along.  Some people may be defensive about getting tested.  How will you handle it if he/she refuses to get tested?  That would send up a warning signal in my head.  If your partner is not willing to protect you, is that really the person you want to give your body to?

Some STD tests are fairly immediate such as Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Herpes.  However, the HIV test is not.  It tests for antibodies that fight the HIV virus, which can take a few months to show up.  So, the test results that you get from an HIV test show what the person was doing 2-3 months before the test, not last week or last night.  A person can contract and spread HIV within 24 hours.  Click here for testing sites.

Once you do get tested, you still should use a condom.  If you have sex with someone unprotected, you‘re sharing the germs of every person that person has had sex with unprotected.

Finally, before you have sex, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want to have sex?
  • Whose idea is it to have sex?  Do I feel pressured?
  • Do I think that he/she will leave if I don’t have sex?  What if I have sex and the person still leaves?
  • Do I know this person well enough to trust him or her?
  • What are some possible consequences to having sex?  Am I ready to deal with them?

Q&A: I am in a new relationship with a nice guy after being in one with a “not so nice guy.” Should I be concerned about having gotten HIV from my last boyfriend and passing on something to my new boyfriend?

I can tell that this worrying you. It’s extremely important to know your status.Our short video, "A Life Changing Thing," points out what behaviors put you at risk of becoming infected with HIV. In short, if you’ve engaged in any behavior that has exposed you to someone’s blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluid, or breast milk, then get tested.

Click here to find confidential HIV testing sites locally or anywhere in the country. Doctors, even pediatricians, and college health centers can also screen for STDs.  The HIV test can tell you your exposure, if any, prior to 6 months ago. You’ll be advised to have another test in six months so you can know for sure.

As with any STD or other illness, the earlier a person who needs to get treated gets the medicine they need, the better the odds of the treatment will help.  So get tested for your own sake and for the sake of your new boyfriend.

I Hope You Have the Time of Your Life!

This past spring I was standing in line at the campus bookstore waiting to buy my cap and gown with my best friend and roommate for 3 years. Right as I was being rung up, Green Day’s Time of Your Life came on the overhead radio speakers and I started to cry. Until then, I had tried to stay strong, mainly by way of denial, but the looming fact of graduating and leaving this amazing world became all too real, and it finally hit me that College was about to be over. Everyone hopes their college experience will be full of the kinds of friendships, memories, and life experiences that mine was. College is what you make of it. You are going to be faced with a lot of decisions and new situations while you’re off on your own and you need to be prepared for that. Hindsight is truly 20/20 so here is a compilation of some lessons I learned along the way.

Stick it out. It truly takes a full year for most people to adjust comfortably into the college lifestyle. If you are not having the time of your life and are begging to come home or transfer closer to home or your high school best friend, don’t give up that easily. Don’t rush out of the situation or go running home because your first 3 months didn’t exceed your expectations. Stick it out. It’s amazing how much difference one semester can make in your overall perspective and experience at college. Stick it out for the second semester. Remember that classes change each semester, so you might find a new group of friends in the spring, who will make you feel comfortable and give you a better home-base feeling. Also, sorority and fraternity rush, which takes place at most schools in the spring, can be a great way for you to make those friendships and feel a part of a group and more comfortable in the larger campus community. And those bonds can last a lifetime. However, if, after your first year, you are still not happy, you can always consider transferring and beginning elsewhere in the fall.

Call your parents. Keep the communication lines open with your parents. They are going to be worried about you, but also curious to hear about all the new friends you are making, fun things you are doing, and interesting information you are learning. Share your stories with them. Whether it’s a short call or text in between classes or as you are getting ready to go out, they’ll be so happy to hear from you and see that you are doing well. They’ll also be less likely to hound you with missed calls and voicemails if you reach out to them, rather than leaving them in the dark. Plus, your parents, as much as you might not like to admit, can really offer some great advice and comfort in times of high stress or confusion.

Facebook. Everyone has one. Sure, you’re going to want to show off all the fun you’re having to your ex, your home friends, and your random Facebook friends or stalkers, but use some discretion with the statuses you post, and the pictures you leave tagged. Even employers these days check applicants’ Facebook pages and if you are looking a mess in all of your pictures, you won’t be getting that great summer internship you were hoping for!

Start Exercising Your Independence Now. Learn how to do laundry. Have your parents show you how to separate and do different loads of laundry at home before you are off on your own. Call and set up your own doctor’s appointments; learn how to deposit and write checks and how to check your account online. If you start learning to manage your own life and absorb some of the responsibilities that you have previously relied on your parents for, you will better adjust to the independence and self-reliance that comes with the beginning of college life.

Be safe, have fun, make friends, have fun, study, have fun. These words of advice are a combination of what my parents told me as they got into the elevator after helping me move into my freshman dorm four years ago. My Mom reminded me that I was here ultimately to learn, study, and graduate with a degree. My Dad continued to interject, “Yes, but have fun.” College is a time like no other. You will meet your best friends for life, you’ll just barely pass a class at least once, and you’ll discover what truly excites and interests you, both in coursework and lecture halls, and out of them. And, yes, while it is important to study hard and be safe throughout the next four years, it’s also important for you to enjoy the ride and make everlasting memories. But while you are out having fun and making these memories, there are some important points to keep in mind so that you wake up every morning safe and without stomach wrenching regrets.

  • Don’t leave your drink unattended. I’m sure you’ve heard this one over and over again, ever since you started going out in high school. However, this is college and you are going to be surrounded by lots more people, some of whom you won’t even know. You can’t trust everyone. There are people out there looking for an easy mark and things like roofies really do exist.
  • Party smart. Just because others are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, doesn’t mean it’s right and that you should, too. Stick to your beliefs and personal rules. Don’t compromise who you are to fit in with new friends. There are temptations everywhere and it can be really easy to get carried away and lose sight of your limit. But in the long run, if you let yourself get wasted, you’ll just end up feeling embarrassed…or worse.
  • “Hooking up.” College is a time to meet new people and form new relationships. But you need to be careful. If you have sex, always use protection, and remember that actions come with consequences. Alcohol can complicate hook ups and other situations, so be cautious with whom and how many people you get involved with, especially while intoxicated. Hangovers eventually go away, but a moral hangover can last much longer and an STD lasts a lifetime.

Smile. The thing that I loved so much about my freshman year was all the people I was constantly meeting! Some of them became my best friends, and some were acquaintances I’d see at parties, in the dining hall, or in classes. Especially during freshman year, everyone is new to the environment and looking to make those unrivaled bonds of friendship that you’ve heard older siblings, parents, and friends talk about. The diversity in a college community helps expose you to all kinds of people from different areas and backgrounds. You can learn so much about yourself just by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, and getting to know people you had never imagined being close with. This for me is when peer influences took on a positive connotation. I learned and gained so much from my friendships with others, and this helped shape me into the person I am today.

Now it’s your turn. I hope that when you are sitting in your cap and gown, waiting to be called up to receive your diploma, you can look back at your own college experience with pride, smile, and say that you, too, had the time of your life.

FAQ: How do I know if I’m ready to have sex?

Only you can decide when you’re ready to have sex for the first time. Though peers or pop culture may tell you that it’s no big deal, sex can come with major physical and emotional consequences. This is why you’ll often hear, “Don’t have sex until you’re ready.” But what does this really mean? How can you tell if you’re ready or not?

Here’s a list of 10 important questions to ask yourself if/when you’re considering sex:


All in all, if you aren't sure whether you're ready for sex, then you're probably not. Even if you’ve had sex before, it doesn’t mean you have to keep having it either. The decision to have sex should never be based on fear or pressure. There are many other ways of sharing and showing feelings for another person if you decide to wait.

Selling Booze to Fight HIV?

When we read that Belvedere Vodka & Product (Red) with the help of Usher were launching a special edition vodka bottle to "help eliminate HIV/AIDS," we hoped it was an April Fools' joke. Unfortunately, this is for real. The specially designed vodka label reads: "(PRODUCT)RED HELPS SAVE LIVES."

Even if 50% of proceeds go to the Global Fund, this product choice seems a wildly insensitive and hypocritical move.  Rather than saving lives, alcohol is the cause of 4% of deaths worldwide- even more than AIDS! Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries.

Beyond this, alcohol use plays a major role in HIV transmission. Alcohol can cloud decision-making abilities and lead to high-risk sexual behaviors or drug use that can spread HIV. Alcohol is also quite harmful to people who are HIV positive; it can lead to failure of medications and other complications.

In a statement, the President of Belvedere said, "As one of the world's leading spirit brands, we are in a unique position to harness the power of our customers to benefit the millions of people who are at risk, or are living, with HIV. We want to raise consumer awareness and incite more global action to eliminate AIDS in Africa. Our message is simple - (PRODUCT)RED helps saves lives." The (PRODUCT) RED campaign also added the Penfold brand of wines to its lineup recently. This trend is worrisome.

The real message should be about the negative effects of alcohol advertising and that drinking can put you at risk for HIV. As this recent reaction from the Marin Institute puts it:

"If Usher and PRODUCT(RED) really wanted to help eliminate HIV/AIDS in Africa, they would counteract the oversaturation of alcohol advertising, rather than promoting it. Instead, it seems that Belvedere and its parent company...are targeting the populations at highest risk of HIV, to increase sales and consumption of a product that increases both the risk of contracting HIV and the progression of HIV/AIDS disease."

FAQ: How did AIDS really start?

Scientists still are not exactly sure how AIDS began to infect humans.  Most researchers say that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is related to a similar immunodeficiency virus found in monkeys.  There are many different theories about how the virus might have transferred from monkeys to humans (if you're interested in specifics of the origins of HIV, read here).

The first recognized cases of AIDS were diagnosed in the early 1980s among gay men in New York and California and later in injection drug users.  By 1983, infections were reported in American women and children.  It wasn't until the next year that scientists discovered that HIV causes AIDS.  By 1990, about 8 million people were infected.

In the last two decades, scientists have discovered that different drugs can slow down the progression of the disease.  These drugs can be very expensive and patients in poor areas of the world often do not have access to them, but they enable some HIV positive people to live longer today than ever before.  The United Nations estimated that there were 33.3 million people are infected worldwide in 2009.

Still, there is no cure or vaccine, so prevention is the key.  HIV can be spread through sexual transmission, through blood, and from mother to child.  In each case, there are ways to prevent or eliminate HIV risk.  For more on prevention, link to our prevention article.

If you're interested in more, check out this AIDS Timeline link.  For more on prevention, click here.

FAQ: Where Can I Get Tested for HIV?

Thankfully there are so many places now to get tested and advised about what to do if you test HIV positive. Most doctors’ offices (or clinics and GYN’s) simply and routinely offer testing as they do for any number of medical conditions. There also specific clinics that will do confidential testing free of charge or for a minimal fee.  Click on this link to find one close to you. Go get tested if you have any doubts. And go again in 6 months to make sure. Better to know and deal with it early, then worry yourself needlessly and perhaps get sick, hurting yourself and others.