Did you know that every hour 50 young people (aged between 15 and 24) are infected with HIV in eastern and southern Africa¹? Are you aware that globally, over the past decade, the number of adolescents dying due to AIDS-related illnesses has tripled – despite decreasing among all other age groups²? Have you heard that AIDS is now the number one cause of death among young people in Africa and the second leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide²?

“The saddest thing about these statistics is that they can be prevented through appropriate education on sex, HIV and AIDS and where to go to get help. This is particularly true for young men who have sex with men (YMSM) who are at highest risk of HIV acquisition³, yet for whom targeted prevention interventions are largely non-existent,” says Riaan Norval, Project Manager for Young Heroes, a campaign of Anova Health Institute. This campaign is spearheading the Young Heroes programme aimed at empowering YMSM to make safer sex choices.

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He continues: “While sexual education currently falls under the Life Orientation curriculum in South African schools, studies have shown that several factors stand in the way of this being effective. These include teachers believing that teaching and talking about sex and sexuality will encourage learners to have sex⁴, the refusal of some teachers to discuss homosexuality on cultural and religious grounds⁴, preference amongst teachers for abstinence-only education⁵ and the curriculum itself being heteronormative⁶. As a result, many YMSM turn to pornography and their peers for their sexual education – sources which do little to promote HIV prevention.”

South Africa is unfortunately not alone in the lack of sex education in schools. A study in the United Kingdom revealed that nearly half of YMSM turned to pornography to learn about gay sex – seeing that 82% of them received no education about it in school. A number of respondents admitted that they engaged in unsafe or risky practices after watching porn.

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Young Heroes was launched to address this gap in sexual education and awareness and equip young men with psychosocial tools and support for better health outcomes while they are in their teens and more importantly as adults. Young Heroes provides young men with information on how to protect themselves and their partners from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, safe spaces, access to resources and a supportive community through its social media, website and mobile platforms. It also ensures that YMSM have access to healthcare services that support sexual and mental health should they need it.

“In a country with the biggest HIV epidemic in the world⁷, we cannot afford for our young people not to be armed with the necessary information to save their lives,” concludes Norval,

To learn more, visit the website and follow the Young Heroes YouTubeInstagramTwitter and Facebookpages.

¹http://www.za.undp.org/content/south_africa/en/home/ourwork/hiv_aids/successstories/youth-most-affected-by-hiv–unaids.html

²https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/key-affected-populations/young-people

³https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/pdf/hiv_factsheet_ymsm.pdf

http://www.hearusout.org/modules/MDCatalogue/resources/72_teacher_positioning_on_the_teaching_of_sexual_diversity_in.pdf

⁵ http://contentpro.seals.ac.za/iii/cpro/DigitalItemPdfViewerPage.external?id=7866743463380547&itemId=1018868&lang=eng&file=%2Fiii%2Fcpro%2Fapp%3Fid%3D7866743463380547%26itemId%3D1018868%26lang%3Deng%26nopassword%3Dtrue%26service%3Dblob%26suite%3Ddef#locale=eng&gridView=true

⁶ https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dennis_Francis2/publication/263175820_Teacher_perspectives_on_abstinence_and_safe_sex_education_in_South_Africa/links/5535dd960cf218056e92aa55/Teacher-perspectives-on-abstinence-and-safe-sex-education-in-South-Africa.pdf

⁷ https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/south-africa

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