Navigating the ups and downs of student life is tough enough. But tackling the ins and outs of sexual health can be seriously challenging!
But what if I told you that the biggest roadblock to getting the information you can actually use is stigma? It's stigma that keeps us from having essential conversations about testing for HIV, and other sexually transmitted, blood-borne infections (aka, STBBI's) like syphilis, gonorrhea, and others.
Many of us often get misinformation–and develop negative perceptions of HIV and STBBI's–from family, friends, and peers.
So together, let's kick stigma to the curb... then let's talk!
Misinformation around HIV can leave us confused about the difference between HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
For starters, HIV is the virus, which if left untreated, can develop into AIDS. But with treatment, today people living with HIV live long, fulfilling, and happy lives! And with regular treatment, they can even get the virus down to such an undetectable level that it can't be passed on sexually!
Remember, there's zero shame in taking control of your sexual health. And at the top of the list of to-do's is getting tested!
In the meantime, let's get the 3 most essential facts straight!
1. HIV does not discriminate.
You might think that HIV or other STBBIs do not affect you so you don’t have to test or use protection. However, the truth may surprise you. HIV does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, irrespective of age, sex, gender, race, or sexual partners.
2. HIV tests are not accurate immediately after exposure!
At the workshops that I facilitate, many people do not realize that HIV tests are not accurate immediately after exposure! HIV self-tests are actually 99% accurate 12 weeks after exposure, and standard HIV tests received at clinics and hospitals are accurate after 6 weeks.
Different kinds of STBBI tests each have different window periods of testing, so it’s important to give your health care provider as much information as you can about your sexual history and recent exposure.
Ask your health care provider what the testing window period is for different STBBI's, and whether it is important for you to test again. Testing too soon can incorrectly give you a negative result, and therefore a false sense of security, which can lead to the spread of HIV and STBBI's.
3. A negative result does not leave you defenseless... embrace PrEP and PEP.
PrEP (a medicine taken before being exposed to HIV to protect against getting the virus... it's like a shield that keeps you safe if you're at risk), and PEP (a medicine taken after possible HIV exposure to lower the chances of getting the virus... it's a superhero backup plan to prevent getting sick if you might have been around HIV).
If you have anxiety around PrEP and PEP, you can get a consultation with a nurse or doctor. They can help you understand side effects, effectiveness, and what a daily routine for you could look like. Both are strong and effective ways to protect yourself against HIV.
Plus don't forget condoms, and other medical ways to help keep you safe and live a long, healthy life. Without fear.
The take-home message is this: If you have questions, do not be afraid to ask.
Reach out to get the most accurate and up to date information so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.
Sexual health clinics offer more than just testing; they are gateways to support groups, referrals to doctors. They help with financial pathways to pay for medications and other financial support. They can also refer you to non-judgmental spaces for informational sessions that help reduce barriers to testing in our communities.
Information sessions can cover the testing process, risk factors, exposures, confidentiality and consent, and when you can expect your test results. In short, all the info you deserve to have!
Armed with the facts, we can challenge myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV and STBBI's. By seeking support, accessing preventative measures like PrEP and PEP, and being aware of online reliable resources offered by clinics, community-based organizations, and programs like I AM, we can all unlock the path to making informed choices!
And remember, when in doubt, get tested!
There is no harm in it. It's the only way to know your status and find peace of mind before determining next steps. Learn more about how you can find support and resources here.