Growing up, HIV was a terrifying unknown. I thought it was something that no-one could deal with — something to be deeply fearful of at all times.
I was told to avoid contracting the virus at all costs, and rather than being given the facts about HIV, and how to have sex safely as a young queer man, I was just told to “be careful”. This fearmongering shaped how I felt about HIV, and my sexuality. It made it seem like gay sex was something inherently dangerous, and therefore perverse. I think if I’d have been given the facts, including that people can live long and fulfilling lives with the virus, I would have had an easier time coming to terms with who I am.
When I had my first HIV test, I received excellent support from a sexual health nurse who took the fear and stigma out of testing completely. The experience helped me understand how important it is for all of us to take ownership of our sexual health, and that taking control of it can be empowering.
My views on HIV transformed when I ran in the Brighton Marathon in support of Terrence Higgins Trust in 2018. I ran alongside people who were open about their HIV status – they were happy, healthy and not just living, but thriving with HIV. This was completely at odds with all of the negative things I’d heard about HIV and helped me to realise that the rumors just weren’t true.
I often meet gay men and other LGBT+ people who haven’t had an HIV test in a long time — or ever. People’s reluctance to test often comes from anxiety about the result. But I can say from experience that it’s always better to know. Fears about HIV testing will not get better through avoidance, they will only get worse; and testing, whatever the result, will enable you to get to a place where you are in control of your attitude to sexual health, and how topics like these affect your emotions and self-esteem. Test yourself regularly as a method of removing the judgement society wants you to place on your own sexuality. You’re a free agent; you can have sex however you choose and take care of yourself while doing so.
Most people will get a negative result, but whatever happens it’s crucial to know that anyone who is diagnosed with HIV in the UK can access free treatment and support. If you test positive, effective treatment means you cannot pass on the virus to sexual partners and can expect to live a normal lifespan.
Regular HIV testing benefits each and every one of us. I’m currently in a happy, long-term open relationship and that has really heightened my sense of responsibility not just to myself, but to my partner. Sexual health is an opportunity for us both to take control of our sexuality and keep each other healthy.
Order your free HIV test
Testing for HIV is now quick and easy. You can do it at home by ordering a free test kit now from startswithme.org.uk which will be posted through your door in plain packaging.
If you have any questions, you can contact Terrence Higgins Trust in confidence via 0808 802 1221 or tht.org.uk/thtdirect