How was the epidemic handled in the 1980s/1990s

According to National Research Council (US) Committee on AIDS Research and the Behavioral, Social, and Statistical Sciences sexual activity was seen more prominently in teenage males in the 1980s rather than teenage women. Due to this sexual activity going on in these teenage years, it makes sense that the schools would start educating teens on what they’re engaging in and the consequences that may come with it.

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Serological studies of HIV infection, surveys of sexual and drug use behaviors, and reports from clinics for the treatment of drug use and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) all indicate that some young people begin practicing behaviors that risk HIV transmission during and in some cases before their early teens. By the end of the teenage years, the majority of young persons in America report having begun sexual intercourse, and one-half report some experience with illicit drugs. Evidence from HIV seroprevalence studies conducted among patients admitted to 37 metropolitan hospitals during 1988–1989 suggests that the HIV prevalence rate is vanishingly small among 11-year-olds but begins rising at age 12 and continues to rise throughout the teenage years (National Research Council, paragraph 2).


I think it is fairly interesting to see that the rise was around the age of 12 and this is also when sex education began being taught around the ages of 12 and 13 in schools.

During my research I found a timeline of how sex education had evolved over time. The topics of what was appropriate and what should be discussed in sex ed. These questions became more talked about once the HIV and AIDS became an issue in society. Things like homosexuality was the main concern for many, when determining whether or not this was something to inform kids about. But, to me it seems like, back then, it would have been difficult to teach children about this disease when there was this strong stigma surrounding gay men and the disease.

In Rithman’s article she includes John Leo’s report, 1986 Cover Story,  speaking on how sex education was changed forever in TIMES magazine, he uses a quote from someone saying:

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“There is now no doubt,” said Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in his grim report on AIDS last month, “that we need sex education in schools and that it must include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships.” … Because of the “deadly health hazard,” he said later, “we have to be as explicit as necessary to get the message across. You can’t talk of the dangers of snake poisoning and not mention snakes.”(Rothman, paragraph 4)



Not only was the idea of homosexuality something not promoted prior to the sudden outbreak, but so was the idea of sexual abstinence before marriage. The Adolescent Family Life Act was passed in 1981 which began the promoting of sexual abstinence before marriage.

It is only normal to assume that this was passed due to the HIV disease being discovered and 5 men dying from it. The outbreak and many deaths occurring in the 1980s and 90s drastically changed many peoples views on what teenagers should be taught in school, “By the time the magazine revisited the topic in 1993, a whopping 47 states mandated some form of sex ed for students — versus a mere three in 1980 — and every single state supported education about AIDS.”(Rothman, paragraph 5)which ultimately changed things for teens in a way.

The idea of abstinence and no sex before marriage became something that was beaten into the youths head, so that this disease would in some ways “contained” by societal methods.

Click here to find out if these methods worked.