There are so many reasons to be proud this Pride Month - the U.S. has made great strides in advancing LGBT rights, 19 states and the District of Columbia have embraced marriage equality, and access to affordable health care is available to more Americans than ever before. It's also easier than any other time in history to take charge of your sexual health. June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, and I encourage people of all ages to get tested.
If you're young and healthy, you may not think you're at risk for HIV infection, but that's actually not true. Young people account for 26 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. each year. And you can't tell by looking at someone if they have HIV: on average, people with HIV don't develop symptoms for 10 years. In the U.S., more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and almost one in six people don't even know they are infected.
Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men need to be especially aware of their risk for HIV: they accounted for 63 percent of the new HIV infections in 2010. Overall, in the United States, men who have sex with men, particularly young African-American men, have the highest rates of HIV infection nationwide.
The good news is that HIV can be managed and HIV-positive individuals can live full lives if they know their status early and take action to stay as healthy as possible. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can get treatment, and early treatment can help prevent serious health problems down the line.
No one is immune to HIV infection, so if you're sexually active, you should get tested regularly. Getting tested for HIV may seem scary, nerve-wracking or embarrassing, but it's actually just a basic part of taking care of your health and your body -- and the good news is it's easier than ever before. Getting tested is quick, simple, and painless -- rapid HIV tests can provide results in as fast as 20 minutes from just a swab inside the mouth.
Planned Parenthood provides low-cost HIV testing for women, men, and young people, as well as sexual health information, in health centers across the country and throughout the year. We work every day to reduce the rates of sexually transmitted infections -- and our doors are open to everyone. Planned Parenthood also provides sensitive and accurate information, education, and resources on the full range of topics affecting sexual health to men and women of all ages every day.
So this June 27, visit your local Planned Parenthood health center for a free or low-cost HIV test. Planned Parenthood wants everyone to stay as healthy as possible -- on June 27, and every day.
Vanessa Cullins, M.D. is the vice president of external medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. For more information about HIV testing, or to find a health center near you, visit PlannedParenthood.org.
The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has released this new video in partnership with the Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) to highlight the importance of "testing for all." Watch the video below: