QUESTION: I am ready to have sex with a guy I am dating, and I want to do the right thing and get tested [for HIV] first. I don't know how to bring it up though. I tried to discuss getting tested with a man I dated before him. He was taking me to an appointment and there was a testing centre nearby. I suggested on a whim that we get tested and he freaked out. He said he didn't need to be tested and it was like I was telling him that I didn't trust him. How can I avoid this happening again?” — Y.F.
ANSWER I am proud of you for putting your health first. It's because of women like you who have made getting tested and having safe sex a priority in their relationships that new HIV infections among black women (in the US) declined 21 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is amazing news.
Now, about that ex of yours. I've spent the last few months touring the country for “Life. As We Know It,” a frank discussion series on dating, relationships and safe sex. I've heard from many women who fear that asking their partner to get tested will elicit the same reaction that your ex gave. But I've heard from more women who have asked their mate something like, “Hey, I think we should get tested for HIV,” and his response was, more or less, “OK.”
The guy who flipped out sounds like a statistical anomaly. He implied that he had never been tested for HIV, and actually the majority of black people have been. In fact, also according to the CDC, blacks are “more likely than other races and ethnicities to report that they have been tested for HIV at least once — 65 percent versus 46 percent for Hispanics/Latinos and 41 percent for whites.”
There are a couple of reasons he could have had that reaction with you. One, he's not comfortable with the idea of getting tested. Maybe he's engaged in risky behaviours, and he could be afraid of what the test results would show. Despite what he said about not needing to get tested, if he's been sexually active, he does. Two, saying you don't trust him was a weak way of dodging the issue at hand. He sounds quite sketchy. I hope that you did not have sex with him, or if you did, that you have been tested since then.
One thing I'd like to suggest going forward. Getting tested obviously can be a touchy topic for some people. I know you were trying to take advantage of the moment, but the idea of getting tested may go over better if you talk about it in a more comfortable environment instead of springing it on your partner in a public place. That could be a third reason he reacted that way.
Next time there's a conversation about sex with the new guy - because there's always a conversation - casually suggest that the two of you “get tested together.” Together is the key word. You want to know his current status, and he should want to know yours as well. Hopefully, he's on board - if he isn't, sex is not an option - but agreeing to the idea is not enough. Plan a date and time that you both get tested, again, together.
If you just have a preference to go to a doctor's office or a free testing site, that's fine. But you and your partner can also test yourselves more conveniently using a home testing kit, similar to ones used in medical offices, and know your status in minutes. Once you and your partner have your results - hopefully, negative - you can “celebrate” right then and there.
Good luck! (And have fun!) - Washington Post/The Root.