What Happens During A HIV Test?
I love June for its warm breezes, official declarations of summer, and the cascading colors of Pride. The energy is palpable, the inclusivity is inspiring, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the drinks are flowing.
That said, Pride is far more than an excuse to party. Historically, the LGBTQ+ community has been victim to particularly awful treatment in our country, in particular, to its abandonment during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980's.
As acceptance of all different lifestyles has slowly increased since that time, so have medical advancements, particularly in the realm of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.
While HIV can affect virtually anyone, including heterosexual men and women, the CDC reports that "gay and bisexual men are more severely affected by HIV than any other group in the United States."
According to the CDC's site:
If current diagnosis rates continue, one in six gay and bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, including one in two black/African American gay and bisexual men, one in four Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men, and one in 11 white gay and bisexual men.
Before your heart crumbles into pieces, scientific advancements have provided more ways than ever before to help decrease the number of HIV diagnoses around the world.
A simple test is one of them.
To coincide with National HIV Testing Day, Elite Daily spoke to with experts to create a guide for what to expect when you go get tested for HIV.
You have nothing to worry about.
1. You Actually Show Up To Your Appointment
If abiding by scheduled plans isn't your thing, locate a HIV testing site where you can walk in.
Louis Ortiz-Fonesca, Senior Manager for LGBTQ Health and Rights at Advocates for Youth, told me "many sites are flexible and provide services without an appointment."
I have a hard enough time making it to the dentist, where the worst case scenario is usually a cavity. If you're eager to get tested without using excuses to postpone appointments, go for a walk-in site.
Once you arrive, you may be asked to fill out a confidential risk-behavior survey or in-take form. Ortiz-Fonesca explains that "these forms ask questions about demographics as well as you recent sexual behavior. All of the answers are completely confidential and serve as a guide for the Testing Counselor in supporting you as an individual."
Everyone at the testing site understands that this is a nerve-wracking process, so if you're looking for support, you'll get it.
2. The Idea Of Getting Tested Will Have You Feeling Anxious
Needles and scary-sounding medical terms? Anxiety and fear are practically inevitable.
"Uncertainty about the results can manifest in many ways that look and feel like guilt and shame," says Ortiz-Fonesca explains. "Many folks may feel guilt and shame around their sexual behavior."
I've definitely pseudo-lied to my general practitioner about always using condoms during sex. We are all human with room for error, and ideally no one is shaming you for your sexual behavior at a testing site.
Of course, there's also the innate fear of being HIV-positive. "Many of these fears continue to exist because stigma around HIV is so pervasive," says Ortiz-Fonesca. "Again, having these fears does not mean you are doing anything 'wrong'."
The best way to combat fear? Knowledge.
3. You Speak To A Counselor With Any Questions About HIV
You don't have to go it alone. You may not be up for bringing a friend, but there will be someone for you to talk with before getting tested.
This is your chance to state some of your worries out loud.
The counselor or HIV tester, works with each person during the testing process in navigating these fears. This is why before anyone gets tested, they are provided pre-test counseling. This provides an opportunity to ask questions and be completely supported around all of the emotions a person may be feeling.
If you get chatty when you are nervous like I do, this is also a great opportunity to blow off some steam. Relax your muscles and ask whatever is on your mind about HIV or otherwise.
4. Your Blood Will Be Drawn For The HIV Test
You do the damn thing, because you are brave and powerful.
You can choose to get rapid HIV testing, which provides results in under 20 minutes (or sometimes, in as little time as one minute). If not, you can opt for a regular blood test.
Either way, the test site will use a small blood sample to test for HIV, whether with a needle or quick finger prick.
Even if you're prone to queasiness, it's a pretty quick process.
5. You Get Your Results And Continue Living Your Life
Your testing counselor will return with your results, or provide them once the results have returned in a few days.
No matter what they say, it's important to remember that testing positive for HIV antibodies should not have you assuming the worst.
If the results are positive, a counselor will provide you with resources for treatment, both mental and physical. If you test negative, they will provide advice on continuing the practice safe sex with continued ways of reducing your risk of contracting HIV.
"While treatment for HIV now allows people to live long and healthy lives, stigma continues to overshadow this fact," says Ortiz-Fonesca. "This is why days like National HIV Testing Day exists so that people are reminded and inspired to have conversation not just about HIV, but about sexual health. The more conversations we have, the more opportunities we have to challenge and eradicate HIV stigma."
The first step to that decreasing stigma is with this HIV test.
Make a screening for HIV part of your regular sexual health maintenance. That means getting tested when you are tested for other STIs, or when you have your blood drawn at your annual check-up.
While 2017 has at times felt like a depressing, garbage fire twin sister to 2016, medical advances are something we can all be grateful for.
If you need some help finding out where to get tested, check out the CDC's Get Tested site here.
The more we treat HIV as exactly what it is - treatable - the less fear we will have when it comes to getting tested.