Are college students still likely to lie about their HIV status? Ralph Meyer, a University of Cincinnati biology professor wants to know.
Last year, his general education class' Annual Survey of Sexual Behavior and Attitudes revealed that more than a handful of students were willing to lie or conceal information about their HIV status.
The class, which looks at the ethical and social ramifications of HIV/AIDS, conducts this survey every year in May during National AIDS Awareness Week.
"Each student finds 20 students to survey while at the same time they become peer teachers," Meyer said. "People tend to be more interested in a topic when they are being asked about it. So, they come up with all these questions, and my students help to answer them."
Meyer created the general education class to raise awareness about AIDS and the discrimination and misconceptions that oftentimes are connected to it.
The widespread publicity and news about more effective drug combinations in treating AIDS and the decreasing publicity about people infected with HIV has had several side-effects, Meyer said.
"People are not as interested in the HIV/AIDS virus as much as they used to be, and so people have stopped volunteering and educating others," he said.
Meyer, a volunteer educator at AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, created his ethical and social class in 1990 to look specifically at what these and other trends pertaining to AIDS indicate.
There are no exams given in his class, which fills up every spring quarter.
But the class does include five debates on topics such as homosexuality, assisted suicide and reproductive rights. Although these debates can get heated at times, Meyer said he makes sure the students look at the issues from all sides.
"A lot of the students are in this class because they know someone with HIV or full-blown AIDS," he said. "I want them to be able to get a sense of what that really means. By the end of the quarter, the students get really involved with each other because of this interesting dynamic."
And many of his students come away from the class with more sensitivity and tolerance for people infected with HIV/AIDS, Meyer said.
But the most important thing for Meyer is that the students come away with accurate information.
"There is so much discrimination out there that I want my students to be able to sift through it and find what is true and important," Meyer said.
That is one reason for the survey, he said.
The survey done last year found that about 10 percent of respondents would tell their sexual partner they were HIV-negative, even if they were not sure. Nineteen percent of the respondents said they would conceal information from their sexual partner if they were HIV-positive.
But even with these disturbing results, Meyer said there was a silver lining.
"We proved that people will use a condom even if they say they won't," he said.
Only 9 percent of those surveyed said they would refuse sex if the other partner insisted that a condom be used.
The results of the 1999 Annual Survey of Sexual Behavior and Attitudes of UC students will be available May 15. ©