Ten days ago I was tested for HIV.
I was also tested for chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhea, herpes (type 2), and syphilis. This was not in response to an exposure scare, nor was I experiencing any kind of symptoms. It was simply my regular 6-month checkup at my local Planned Parenthood branch.
Getting tested every six months may sound like overkill for someone who regularly uses condoms and is experiencing no symptoms, but this schedule is something I am very serious about. Condoms are not 100% effective at preventing the spread of STIs, and people are not 100% effective at using them. Any number of condom mishaps can occur that might increase the spread of an infection, and the symptoms of many STIs can be missed or confused with a number of other minor infections. Sometimes, they can display no symptoms at all. STIs can also be passed through unprotected oral sex, as you read in a recent post here on this site. Given these factors, and the number of sexual partners I have in the average six months it is very important to me to get frequent testing to protect myself and the people I have sex with, whom I care about very deeply.
My visit to Planned Parenthood was, as usual, a breeze. I scheduled my appointment through their website and was emailed a patient form to have filled out when I got there (this form could also have been filled out at the office if I didn’t have access to a printer). I arrived 10 minutes before my appointment and enjoyed a free cup of tea and a few pages of my book before I was called. A very friendly nurse sent me to the bathroom to produce my urine sample, took a bit of blood when I got back (there is also a mouth-swab method of testing for those that are squeamish about giving blood), and left me with an information sheet about the tests while I waited for a doctor. After a short wait, a doctor came to see me to find out whether I was experiencing any symptoms I was concerned about (I wasn’t) and ask what had prompted me to get tested. When I told her that I was in an open relationship and simply wanted to ensure the safety of myself and my many partners, she didn’t bat an eyelash. The staff at Planned Parenthood is extremely non-judgmental and open to just about anything a patient could tell them. That’s one of the reasons I go to them (although my general practitioner has always been very understanding of my lifestyle, as well). I remember thinking, as I was talking to the doctor, “I wish everyone understood how un-scary this is and got tested more often.”
In my experience, most doctors use the “no news is good news” method of test result reporting. If they find something, they’ll call you. Otherwise, if you haven’t heard anything in ten days, everything is fine. Whether I think I’ve been exposed or not, that ten day waiting period to confirm negative results always makes me nervous. I get the same feeling when I do a credit check for a new apartment (knowing my credit is probably fine). There are just those tests in life that give you a little flutter of nervousness even if you know you’ll “pass.”
So, did I pass?
Yes. It’s day 10 and I haven’t heard anything from Planned Parenthood, indicating that all of my test results were negative. I can’t help but to always feel a little bit lucky on day 10. It’s like I’ve dodged a bullet, even though I am wearing that Kevlar vest and have been careful not to walk down dark alleyways alone in the middle of the night. But not everyone is so lucky. Every 9 1/2 minutes, another person in the United States becomes infected with HIV.http://lifelongaidsalliance.org/ This is a scary number, and one that can’t be ignored. That’s why I have been such an ardent supporter of Seattle’s Lifelong AIDS Alliance charity for so many years. I volunteer as often as I can, and each year I participate in the Seattle AIDS Walk to help raise money for their services. This year, my goal is to raise $1000 for this event. My friends and I have already raised over $500 for our walking team, and we need your help to get that last $500. Please take a moment to visit my donations page and give a little to this worthy cause. Any amount is greatly appreciated, and I will personally send a small token of my thanks to everyone who donates.
And once you’ve donated, I strongly encourage you to get tested. No matter how low you think your risk may be, it’s the least you can do to ensure the safety of yourself and the ones you love. I want all of you to have a long, healthy, sexy life.