AIDS Activist Mary Fisher once said, “We may take refuge in our stereotypes, but we cannot hide there long, because HIV asks only one thing of those it attacks. Are you human?”
Getting tested for HIV is easy, fast and inexpensive. Sometimes, it’s even free — this month, the campus health center announced free HIV-testing hours. But for some reason, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 20 percent of the 1.2 million individuals living with HIV in the U.S. don’t know they have it.
Perhaps for some people, there’s a stigma around HIV, especially since this disease disproportionately affects the LGBT community, sex workers and people who inject drugs. But the truth is that regardless of whether you practice safe sex, or whether you’ve ever touched a dirty needle, anyone can be at risk, and the health of any relationship depends on how transparent you are about your sexual health. Unless you’re completely abstinent and are diassociated with drug use, it could happen to you. But if we let stigmas continue and people keep experiencing discrimination for disclosing their status, fear may prevent individuals from seeking the help they need.
There are more reasons to get tested than reasons not to. Primarily, being certain of your status will enhance a relationship with a partner because it will allow you to look after both your own sexual health and your partner’s. There’s no harm in getting tested, and the earlier you do it, the better.
I find the issue of HIV awareness especially important as an openly gay man, since the LGBT community faces a higher risk of HIV. According to the CDC, in the U.S., gay and bisexual men account for 82 percent of HIV diagnoses among males, and 67 percent of all diagnoses. Additionally, more than half of young gay or bisexual men who are HIV-positive are unaware of their status.
The fact that several people who are HIV positive don’t know it serves as a reason to get tested, even if you know you’re not at a high risk. As paranoid as I am about safety and responsibility, I still value the importance of testing because I have nothing to lose by getting tested and knowing the result is negative. But let’s say the result turned out positive — it’s incredibly important to know in order to start treatment as soon as possible. As Valentine’s Day passes, keep in mind that through a simple blood test or saliva sample, you can be more confident in your health, your relationships, and most importantly, your future. HIV is preventable, and we can all take steps to reduce or eliminate our risk.
Junior journalism major
Printed in the 2/15/17 issue.