Sexual encounters through social media are becoming more and more prevalent in the Philippines, particularly in Cebu and Iloilo where the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS are now being reported.
“Hi, how are you? Where are you from?” began the conversation.
Jake (not his real name), 21, responded to the message, and started a flurry of exchanges with his new friend online. It went on for weeks ━ getting to know each other, sharing personal information, and later, talked about sex.
His 24-year-old online friend did not have any photos on his profile, but he did send Jake a photo of himself. “I never expected him to be so good looking, with a nice body,” Jake said. They met in person weeks later and eventually had sex. They were both males.
That was Jake’s first and only sexual encounter with another male. But it was enough for him to catch the HIV virus.
First, his weight dropped so rapidly, his cheeks became sunken, his face more gaunt. Then his throat began to hurt. It became sore and painful, making it difficult to swallow. In the evening, he woke up in cold sweats, sheets soaked, despite air conditioning on full blast. Then the flu-like symptoms went away a week later. “Just a fever,” he thought. The symptoms were a sign of something much more serious than the flu. An employment test revealed that Jake was HIV positive.
Jake’s case is now common. He is part of the age group that is seeing the largest increase in HIV infections. It’s an old virus, but with new victims. Young, sexually active millennials are seeing a rise in HIV infections across the world, a trend that does not spare the Philippines.
And how does this age group get infected?
Sex, of course. Made infinitely easier by social media. With technology so readily available, finding sexual partners is as easy as a swipe to the right, clicking a follow button, or sending suggestive pictures and messages to strangers.
They use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to meet other guys for these risky behaviours. Individuals have sex with both males and females but don’t consider themselves gay; transgender women have sex with males; teenage girls have sex with males who have been with other males.
There is some good news. The Philippine government agrees that HIV prevention among the youth is a priority. The Department of Education is open to age-appropriate sex education. And even Catholic Churches are advocating for HIV prevention ━ although the strategy they promote is abstinence, rather than the use of condoms.