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Safe sex is still vital
Many young people fail to practise safe sex because they wrongly believe a cure has been developed for the HIV virus. One young man, Lee, who is infected with HIV tells his story.

"I grew up in a town and family where you don't talk very much about HIV and sex.

In school, the teacher would tell us to always use a condom to protect ourselves and to stop a woman from getting pregnant.

It didn't apply to me and I couldn't see myself being with someone that might have something wrong with them.

I was 16 and decided I wanted to grow, live, and experience the big wide world that was outside school and my family.

I started to have fun. I would go drinking and clubbing and start to gain a different type of attention that I had tried to get from my parents.

I started to have sex with men and women. It was fun and I felt it was a kind of love and another way of being close to someone.

I was also coming to terms with my sexual identity at a time when I wanted to feel free but couldn't because of fear.

Homosexuality made me feel ashamed

Homosexuality always made me feel ashamed of my body and desires, because I knew what people really thought of them.

(Eventually) I started to have more faith in myself and form better relationships. I was still drinking and having sex, but only going out at the weekends.

I passed my exams and got great results. I wanted to go to university, but during the summer vacation I started to become sick with what they thought was glandular fever.

I lost weight, and was the sickest I had ever been.

The doctors wanted to screen me for everything. They thought I had cancer and did a bi-op on a gland in my neck. They asked me about my sex life, which I felt was too personal. They told me I was at little risk and that an HIV test was just a way of taking HIV off the list of possible illnesses that I might have.

(When) the doctor told me that I was HIV positive, I went numb all over and my mum burst out crying.

Images of tombstones

I was left in the room thinking how I had let my mum down and that I was going to die. Black and white images of tombstones with the words HIV came crashing down into my mind.

The doctor told me that I could have 10 years of good health and that they had medicines to help treat the symptoms.

I drank even more and would try to forget the pain.

I would sometimes think about killing myself to stop the pain I was causing.

I decided I would not tell my father as he wouldn't be able to cope. I wasn't thinking about what I needed but how I could protect him from the truth and pain.

I drank so much that I was starting to affect my liver.

It was at that point that I knew things had to change. I decided that I couldn't quit and that knowledge was my only key to power.

I went back to school after a stay in hospital and realised that grades weren't as important as me dealing with my health and HIV.

Learning together

My family and I began to learn together. A few months later I was back in hospital and finding it hard to come to terms with all the demands. My exams were fast approaching and a couple of weeks before they started, I was back in hospital. I was not able to pee.

They did tests and were not able to find what was wrong with me. My 10 years of good health was being cut even shorter.

I had a bag and catheter tied to my leg that went through my penis to empty my bladder.

I phoned up my teacher and told him I could not sit the exams.

He gave me strength and made me see I had come too far to quit.

I sat all my exams. I didn't pass with the As and Bs, but I did pass. I did it for myself. As strange as it sounds, I wouldn't change being HIV positive.

It has made me grow up and live life to the full. I have learnt to be strong and trust myself in all my decisions regarding my healthcare and future choices.

I only hope that it doesn't take another young person to follow my road blindly, as I know they may not have the same strength to complete its journey as I did."

Lee's full story appears on the World Aids Day website at

See also:

01 Dec 99 | Health
01 Dec 99 | In Depth
01 Dec 99 | Health
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