Unfortunately I am old enough to remember the “Stop Look Listen Live” hedgehog road safety adverts from the 1990s. The little critters were cute, waddling from either foot into the setting sun in the distance, but I remember their message as well as the simple cartoon drawings.
So now as an adult, whenever I cross the road I put on my hedgehog thinking cap: I don’t leave the house without wearing a high-vis neon yellow waistcoat (If I’m on a night out I’ll tie it up with matching arm bands), each and every time I get to a road I stop and look right, look left, look right again and left again. When I reach a set of traffic lights I wait for the green man before crossing. If I reach a zebra crossing I wait for the lollipop man or woman to escort me across.
Yes I’m being sarcastic. But I’m not being blasé about road safety, I do take care most of the time, but there are moments where I am in a rush, or late for a meeting when those lessons from childhood go out the window and I make a dash for it or march on my way without thinking about what I’m doing. We all do. And if we’ve never been hit we’re in a lucky majority.
I’ve been less lucky in other aspects of life, acquiring HIV. But wasn’t I just hit by a bus or a car? Was I just unlucky?
Growing up we’re taught about all sorts of dangers in the world, sometimes because it’s not appropriate for us to understand or deal with the consequences until we’re older, like drinking alcohol, and other times because something will always be hazardous to us, like sticking our fingers in the plug socket.
It’s important to debate the necessity and quality of sexual health and relationship education in schools, but we can’t fool ourselves into thinking every student will listen, or act on the advice provided.
"I guess what’s going through my mind this afternoon is that the best sex education on the planet will not solve the HIV crisis alone."
People don’t always look both ways when crossing the road, and they survive, they’re OK, it’s not a big deal right? So they do it again. They can’t hear any traffic, or their headphones are plugged in – the guy walking in front crossed to the other side so the road is probably clear, and they survive, they’re OK. You don’t know many adults that wait for the red light to disappear, so why would you be over cautious about it? You cross when it’s red, you survive and you’re OK. You know about road safety, you’re smart, you won’t get hit.
And some people don’t always put a condom on during sex (Editors; note: or use other forms of protection.). And they survive, they’re OK. So they chance it again. They don’t make a habit of it, but they got away with it once, so they chance it again, they didn’t have time to get to the pharmacy and they didn’t spot any on the side of the bar.
I guess what’s going through my mind this afternoon is that the best sex education on the planet will not solve the HIV crisis alone. Some people will always believe they are immune to road accidents, and some will think they will never catch HIV. Plain and simple: you can’t encourage people to protect their sexual health any more than you can encourage them to look both ways before crossing the street.
This article previously appeared in Alex’s own blog HIV & Me in February 2015 here.