I don’t know how most of your sex education lessons went or if you had any at all, but I clearly remember mine. During one of the more memorable occasions, we were given a handout showing all the different modes of contraception and how effective each one of them would be while most of us sat in uncomfortable silence.

I’m not saying that our PSD teachers didn’t try to start discussions here and there, but it wasn’t nearly enough. That said, I still got much more than other children of my generation. Some boys’ schools, in particular, seem to have just decided to light candles for their students and hope for the best. Any education they got was passed under desks in floppy disk or CD form. HIV and AIDS were faraway things that happened to other people and other communities, and sexually transmitted infections were urban myths.

Lack of education about HIV also means that people don’t understand that HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was- Anna Marie Galea

In a country so focused on brushing uncomfortable things under the carpet, this culture of silence has not stopped people from sleeping together: it has merely ensured that people get ill while doing it. The statistics are staggering. While almost everywhere else in Europe HIV numbers are going down, it has been reported that in Malta during last year alone 78 people tested positive for HIV. This in the year of a pandemic, where testing has been inevitably reduced.

Even more worrying than this is the fact that fewer than two per cent of people in Malta got tested at the GU clinic last year, and while I don’t have the numbers of how many people are coupled off in monogamous relationships, or that of those who abstain from sexual relations, the fact remains that such a minuscule number of people getting tested is something that should cause grave concern.

To top it all, it would seem the powers-that-be are also exercising their right to look away and whistle in the wind. The GU clinic remains woefully understaffed despite promises of otherwise, and the pledged medication that will see people who live with HIV have a better quality of life is yet to be distributed. Authorities also seem to be under the impression that people in Gozo don’t have sex at all, because Gozi­tans remain without so much as a room for people to get tested in. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I have heard countless reports of people who have tested positive for HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases who have not known where to turn to for emotional support or advice, which has left them feeling more isolated and bereft than ever before.

Lack of education about HIV also means that people don’t understand that HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was, and in some extreme cases, someone who has been vulnerable and disclosed their status has even been treated like the modern equivalent of a leper. Nowadays, once you take your pills and become undetectable, the disease is untransmittable and, provided you take your medication, you can lead a completely normal life.

At a time when there is so much information to be had at a click of a button, it is almost a crime for people to remain so deeply ignorant. Whether our people want to smell the coffee or not, people are going to continue copulating as they have done since the dawn of time, and the best thing our institutions can do is equip them with better tools if we want to help avoid bigger issues. We need to break taboos if we are to break harmful cycles.

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