22 March 2011
If you’re gonna have sex, make sure he’s a Jew . . . (and other tales of HIV testing)
image by Lanecia Rouse
As an HIV testing specialist, I often hear some of the darnedest things whenever I ask people if they’ve had their recommended annual HIV screening yet. I hinted at them in a letter I wrote to “Stigma” a few months back, but my coworkers and I really get a kick out of some of the things we hear, so I thought I’d share them here.
And, believe it or not, I’m not joking or exaggerating about these:
HER: Weeeeelllll . . . I’ll take one . . . Oh, but wait! Where are you from?
ME: Ummm . . . I grew up in South Carolina.
HER: Are you sure?
ME: Ummm . . . yes.
HER: I just want to make sure you’re not from Africa or something putting voodoo on that stick.
ME: Hmmm . . . no ma’am. I don’t know voodoo.
Cue the convulsions and chanting as I did her mouth swab (Ok . . I did exaggerate that part, but I definitely wish I had done that).
HIM: Oh, no no no no. I don’t need a test.
ME: But have you had one before?
HIM: Oh, no no no. I’ve never had an HIV test because I’ve never had HIV.
ME: Well, sir, it’s always good to get a test and know your status for certain, and it’s just a free mouth swab.
HIM: Oh no no no! I know how some people get the flu for a little while when they take the flu shot . . . I don’t want to do anything like that.
ME: Sir, are. you. kidding. me. Are you seriously kidding me? We’re not going to give you HIV for a little while with this voodoo stick.
(ok ok . . . I didn't really say that; I only wish that I had).
HER: Oooohhhh . . . I’ve seen that on CSI before. You’re trying to steal my DNA.
HER: I don’t need a test. I’m not promiscuous.
Meanwhile the young lady sitting next to her has decided there’s no way she can take the test. If she says yes, then everyone will think she is promiscuous.
HER: No, thanks. I’m a Christian. I don't do those kinds of things.
ME: Oh, we test Christians all the time. No worries. And some of them are (gasp!) HIV+ even!
Well, I didn’t gasp, but . . . you know the deal . . . I certainly wish I had.
HER: I’m a mother! And I’ve been married for 13 years! And I believe in God! How dare you come in here and give me an HIV test!”
(slightly paraphrased from my coworker who was yelled at by this married God-fearing woman today)
HIM: Oh, we don’t need tests; Jews and Catholics don’t get HIV.
The moral of this story is, if you’re gonna sleep with someone, clearly Yahweh and Mother Mary are keeping their people in check, so these are your safest bachelors and bachelorettes!
Or maybe the real moral of the story is that everyone has a different sexual story—maybe you are celibate or delaying sex or married to your one sexual partner or have a different sexual partner with each change of underwear. Whatever your story, the story of public health is this: all of us should be tested at least once in our lives, most of us should be tested once each year (yes, even if we’re married, observe the Sabbath or say our Hail Marys regularly) and some of us should be tested every 3-6 months if we participate in high-risk behaviors.
And definitely, if you’re in a setting where someone is promoting HIV testing publicly, never allow any of the above absurd comments to fall from your lips. It does nothing to help get more at-risk populations comfortable with testing, and there’s never a reason to be offended by an HIV test or ignorant about HIV. Simply say, “yes!” It really doesn’t hurt to even get tested again for the sake of public health—especially when there are no needles involved. Or decline if you wish, but do so with respect and say, “but I’m really glad that you offer this free test. It’s important for everyone to know his or her status.”
And HIV knows no race, gender, age, socio-econimic level or religious affiliation, despite popular (or should I say questionable?) belief.
If there are any other HIV testers out there reading this, I’d love to hear some of the interesting things you’ve heard before . . .