HIV/AIDS Backgrounder: Youth

Youth & HIV — Key Messages

Canadians aged 15-24 show the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections. Sexually transmitted infections increase a person's vulnerability to HIV transmission. And while HIV infection rates among Canadians aged 15-19 are relatively low, at about 1.4%, they are much higher among those aged 20-29, at 24% 1.

Young Canadians receive inconsistent, and often inadequate sexual health education. This puts them at higher risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A national study showed that approximately 50 to 60% of grade nine and 11 students think there is a vaccine available to prevent HIV/AIDS. The same survey found that 36% of grade 11 students think that there is a cure for HIV/AIDS. The high prevalence of STIs among young people suggests inconsistent practice of safer sex.

Upping the legal age of consent from 14 to 16 may drive young people away from needed sexual health information. They may choose not to approach parents, teachers, and healthcare providers with sexual questions if they feel they are in a relationship that may get their partners or themselves into legal trouble.

Youth who have self-confidence, positive coping skills, and a supportive social structure make healthier sexual decisions. Studies 2 have shown that young people with strong support networks – such as families, friends, and peer support programs such as ACT and other community organizations provide – are more likely to practice safer sex. This kind of support is particularly important for young women, who may face the additional burden of being expected by their peers to assume unequal sexual roles, and for young gay and bisexual men, who often experience homophobia from their peers and generally.

1. Public Health Agency of Canada [PHAC]. HIV/AIDS Epi Updates. 2007. Available at:
2. Radkowsky & Siegel. “The gay adolescent: stressors, adaptations, and psychosocial interventions”; Chilman 1990; and King, Boyce & King, 1999.