Jul 17, 2011

[Technicolor Musings] The Fear Of Getting Tested

I'm pretty sure that it's universally accepted that HIV / AIDs is pretty damn scary. Everyone who has engaged in sexual activity has probably thought about it at least once, perhaps more so if you're a gay man. Or among men who have sex with men, if you're the type who rejects gender labels and identification with roles of sexual orientation. After all, gay sex has just about 0% risk of pregnancy and thus the need for condoms generally gets thrown out the window by a significant portion of the sexually active queer population.

Flickr: Narisa - HIV testing awareness ad campaign
HIV testing awareness ad campaign
by Narisa Spaulding via Flickr.

In my previous 7+ year relationship, I had never gotten tested for HIV. I could claim that it just never came up in our discussions or the fact that we were a monogamous couple, but of course those reasons won't stand up in court. Heck, I can't look you in the eye and say it was a strictly monogamous relationship since we did involve a few others in terms of our "activities".

So when I finally got tested for HIV for the very first time in my life with my current partner, I admit it was scary. As much as I knew that my chances seemed small, naturally the risk factors where still present in both of our histories. While we all do our best to keep safe, everyone slips up at least once or twice in their lives.

Implicitly, asking about HIV testing often feels like an accusation of infidelity. The logic usually goes that since we're supposed to be in a monogamous relationship, there shouldn't be any risk factors, right? It's not like we do drugs nor do we get regular blood transfusions. Thus to ask about getting tested feels like saying that one or both of you have engaged in sex with a third party, which is totally the WRONG thing to assume.

I was reminded of this fact when I read Nishiboy's blog post where he had his own run in with the HIV testing question with the guy he was seeing. I felt the reaction was totally out of proportion with what he was saying and totally unjustified. And I'm sure a lot of you have found yourselves in the same situation at least once in your lives. And with groups like The No Day But Today Project and The Love Yourself Project trying to spread the message of HIV / AIDs awareness and advocacy here in the Philippines, I thought it prudent to share a few of my own thoughts on the matter.

Flickr: sea turtle - After the Walk
After the Walk
by sea turtle via Flickr.

Everyone Should Get Tested - Doctors now state that everyone, regardless of sexual activity, to get tested for HIV at least once a year. Consider it as a regular part of your annual physical exam just like how we get regular blood tests and chest X-rays. For those who are exposed to possible risk factors, which includes sexual activity, use of needles and related equipment, testing can be as frequent as every 3 months but at least once every 6 months.

This Is About Health, Not About Promiscuity - We need to separate the act of getting tested from the question of whether or not you and your partner are being faithful to one another, at least for those in relationships or related arrangements involving regular sexual activity. The risk factors are everyone after all including instances when we have exposed wounds, engaging in oral sex and having medical procedures done at hospitals. Admittedly these are smaller / lesser risk factors, but the risk remains and you should always do the responsible thing.

Flickr: sea turtle - Smile in the Crowd
Smile in the Crowd
by sea turtle via Flickr.

Talking About HIV / AIDs Is Not About Trust - Often the assumption is made that only sexually promiscuous individuals (read: "sluts") stand the risk of getting HIV while all the other "normal" people have no such risk factors. Just think about how many times you've engaged in unprotected sex with a person, including hook-ups that you had just met. Sure, maybe you got some verbal assurance that he or she is negative, but when was the last time he got tested? Did you see the test results himself? And consider how many people he or she may have slept with since then? And since you're not using protection now, how many times did your sexual partner do the same thing with other people?

It can all get a little staggering when you start running the numbers. The statistics can be rather overwhelming, thus all the more you need to make sure you get yourself tested regularly.

HIV is a disease just like everything else in the world and we need to constantly keep yourselves safe. Get tested regularly. Practice safe sex. And stop looking at people who have HIV / AIDs as evil, slutty people. All it takes is one mistake with the wrong person, and you just might end up with the same condition. Then what, right?

Flickr: denglidendekop - Copenhagen Gay Pride Parade 2009
Copenhagen Gay Pride Parade 2009
by denglidendekop via Flickr.

Lastly, We Need To Face Our Fears - Many people avoid testing out of fear of the results. What if I'm positive? What if I have HIV? Well, we're all dying, albeit at different paces. But you stand a much better chance of living a longer life if we diagnose it earlier rather than later. While we still don't have a cure, medical science has come a long way and has found many ways to help HIV positive individuals continue to live full lives. And if you're negative, then great! But now you actually know for certain - an additional notch on your belt at least for the next six months.

And in case you were wondering, our tests came out negative. Major sigh of relief, I know. And as part of our promise to support the HIV / AIDs awareness / advocacy movement, we've committed to get tested at least once a year.

It's the responsible thing to do after all.
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