Knowledge and Attitudes About AIDS
College students are at risk for HIV because of high rates of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, lack of protection during sexual activity, and sexual activity that takes place after a couple has been drinking (LaBrie et al., 2002). Knowledge levels among college students are generally high; on the other hand, students also tend to overestimate their knowledge about AIDS. Higher knowledge levels about AIDS in the United States have not been found to be consistently correlated with behavior changes or the practice of safer sex (Caron et al., 1992).
Public attitudes about AIDS may incorporate a mixture of the fear of casual contact and homophobia (see Chapter 11). There are three aspects of AIDS that make it different from other infections. First is the fear of transmission; even though one may know that it is not casually transmitted, the fear of catching AIDS is worrisome to most. Second, there is an issue of the social worth of the individuals who have been diagnosed with the disease. There is an illusion that membership in a particular group other than those most at risk conveys protection. Finally, society’s inability to comprehend the magnitude of this illness has left many people feeling isolated and frightened.
Although fewer people hold negative attitudes about people with AIDS today, research has found AIDS remains a stigmatized condition in the United States (Herek et al., 2002). Earlier in this chapter we mentioned that many Americans hold negative opinions of those infected with STIs—today we find that many people are also afraid and uncomfortable around someone with AIDS and have many mistaken beliefs about how AIDS is transmitted.