By: Ranier Simons, ADAP Blog Guest Contributor
The HIV epidemic is far from over. In spite of advances in antiretroviral drug treatment regimens, public-private funding partnerships, and continued outreach and education efforts; the number of new HIV infections each year remains unacceptable. In 2020, 30,635 people aged 13 and older received an HIV diagnosis in the United States. The age group 13-24 accounted for 57% of new diagnoses. Moreover, among teens, gay and bisexual youth account for almost 80% of all new HIV infections. Public health initiatives and advertising have targeted adults but have been lacking in regard to teens and youth.
|Photo Source: HIV Plus Magazine|
A recent three-month study, published in the journal AIDS and Behavior, attempts to explore ways to effectively reach part of this group, specifically gay and bisexual young men. The premise is that parents can be used as an effective resource to prevent HIV in this demographic. David Huebner, Professor of Prevention and Community Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University with a team gathered 61 parents of cisgender sons aged 14-22 who had come out as gay or bisexual at least one month before the study. Set up as a randomized trial, the study split the parents into two groups. In the control group, parents watched a 35-minute documentary that was designed to help parents understand and accept their gay children. The other group was enrolled in an online program called PATHS (Parents and Adolescents Talking about Healthy Sexuality). The program consisted of videos and structured instruction to help parents more effectively communicate with their gay or bisexual sons about staying healthy and how encourage sexual health.
|Photo Source: National Minority AIDS Council|
The instruction took into consideration that the parents were not a monolith and had differing levels of comfort in communicating with their children. Thus, the tasks the parents were given allowed some parents to be more indirect and others to be more direct. For example, for educating their sons about condom usage, parents could either text their sons an instructional video or they could physically demonstrate how to properly apply a condom using a banana. In regards to HIV, parents had the option of sending their sons a fact sheet about the risks of HIV or actually sitting down with them and reviewing it together. Most importantly, parents were educated on how to help their sons get HIV tests and why regular testing is important.
The study showed that parents who were engaged in the online program had more quality interactions talking with their sons about sexual health and helped their sons obtain HIV tests than the parents who were simply shown the documentary on acceptance. The research team wants to show that direct intervention with parents will result in better sexual health outcomes for the gay and bisexual sons. With funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, a larger study will be done. This study will be a year-long study of 350 parent-adolescent dyads to see if structured parental instruction actually reduces HIV risk for gay and bisexual adolescent men.
|Photo Source: HIV.gov|
April 10 is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD). It is designed to raise awareness about the impact of HIV on young people. HIV.gov offers numerous resources and tools to leverage digital communication tools and social media to reach out to youth with prevention, testing, and care messages.
Parents are a previously untapped resource to utilize in HIV prevention efforts among young gay and bisexual males. It is important to not only facilitate changing parents attitudes and understanding of their gay and bisexual sons, but to teach them the actual tools necessary to effectively intervene in the youth’s lives. Multilevel life skills intervention in the home will hopefully lead to better sexual health choices and outcomes as the youth navigate the world around them.
 HIV.gov.(2022, October 27). U.S. Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics
 Henderson, E. (2022, November 2022). Parents represent a promising resource in preventing HIV among gay and bisexual male youth. Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/news/20221110/Parents-represent-a-promising-resource-in-preventing-HIV-among-gay-and-bisexual-male-youth.aspx
 Huebner, D.M., Barnett, A.P., Baucom, B.R.W. et al. Effects of a Parent-Focused HIV Prevention Intervention for Young Men Who have Sex with Men: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. AIDS Behav (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-022-03885-1
Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.