Young People and HIV Prevention in Australian Schools Academic Article uri icon


  • Australia has not seen a Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) epidemic among young people. However, early research in the Australian context had indicated that the degree of unprotected sexual activity, partner change, and STI infection in this cohort would fuel a young people's epidemic if HIV ever reached a tipping point in the country. The difficulty of reaching young people outside school for HIV prevention has been no more successfully addressed in Australia than elsewhere. Therefore, the investment of Australian HIV prevention funds for youth has had an emphasis on school-based programs. This emphasis on formal schooling has led to a history of engagement with the ad hoc and unreliable nature of sexuality education in Australian schools. It has particularly been the catalyst for a struggle to construct young people as sexually active and as possessing a right to appropriate education, against tides of both secular and religiously-motivated resistance. The eight state and territory education sectors, along with the independent sectors, have had differing and sometimes troubled histories with HIV prevention. This paper discusses the differing HIV education policies and programs that have emerged in Australian schooling historically, and in some cases been abandoned altogether, amid strong public debates. It also considers current approaches, the new national curriculum, and future challenges. Additionally, the particular case of same sex attracted young men, who have a heightened level of vulnerability to HIV, is explored. Australian schools have struggled to address both the imperative for relevant sexuality education for same-sex-attracted young people and the broader issue of combating homophobia, which research has linked directly to this vulnerability.

publication date

  • 2014