7/6/2012 12:12 PM
People are buzzing about the recently approved in-home HIV test. The test will be available over the counter, and results can be had in as little as 20 minutes. So, are these tests something you should be incorporating into your sex life?
The HIV transmission statistics among MSM – that’s men who sleep with men – are pretty grim. According to the CDC, bi and gay men account for nearly half of all people in the United States living with HIV, and over half of all new transmissions. And, the person who infects you, in a majority of cases, does not know that they have HIV.
While the tests have just been approved by the FDA for home use, they’ve been distributed in studies for some time to see whether they would help reduce HIV transmission rates. And, the outlook is pretty good. When Dr. Alex Carballo-Dieguez of the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at Columbia University gave home testing kits to 21 at-risk men in New York City, 20 reported using the tests with partners before sexual encounters.
One valuable benefit of the new over the counter test is that it can provide an opener for a discussion of HIV risk for you and your new partner. In an email discussion, Michael Ruppall, Executive Director of the AIDS Institute said, “The discussion of HIV testing would be a great way to break that barrier and possibly take the tests together. The home test kit is just another option in the arsenal of opportunities for people to know their HIV status which is the most important thing for everyone to know.” A lot of people, quite understandably, do not want to talk about their HIV risk. However, to cut transmission rates of this life-altering disease, it is important to open a dialog about risk with every new person you start dating.
Just doing the tests can make people more mindful of HIV status, as well. Said one of Dr. Carballo-Dieguez’s subjects, “Because I’ve been in the study […] I’m kind of ruined from having sex with people where I don’t know what their status is. But I’ll tell you this, I always ask now.”
As for whether there are any drawbacks to the at-home HIV test, Ruppall said that a negative result, as with any HIV test, can provide a false sense of security, which can encourage people to engage in risky behavior. However, another of Dr. Carballo-Dieguez’s subjects reported exactly the opposite. He said, “So that 20-minute delay may [encourage] somebody who’s not sure about barebacking not to bareback even if the test comes back negative because it just gives you time [to think].”
When taking the in-home HIV test, Ruppall says to carefully follow all included instructions. He says, “Most people would also benefit from face to face counseling that they can usually find in their local community. Along with the tele-counseling provided by the testing company, this should help both partners learn more about themselves and the disease and how to continue to protect each other.”
Remember, also, that the new in-home HIV test is not meant to be used in a vacuum. While HIV is the Big Bad, there are plenty of other STIs to worry about. In every encounter, especially those between people who are not yet in monogamous relationships, adhere to safe sex best practices. Periodic screenings for other STIs are important, as well. The Mayo Clinic recommends that gay and bisexual men get screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year. There are at-home tests for these STIs, as well, but you will need to mail samples to a lab to get results.
When you talk to a potential partner about HIV risk, the best thing to do is be matter of fact. By talking about HIV, you are not accusing your new guy of anything, and if the discussion is a deal breaker for him, then you should probably give this one a pass anyway. Just let him know that you are serious about protecting his and your health, and that you like to test together. The right guy will find the concern charming, and you’ll know you have a potential keeper.