Last week, I had to drag my partner to the doctor for a check-up. He's the kind of guy if he doesn't feel any pain, then everything must be OK. But I'm a worrier and so I decided it was best that we go in because quite some time had passed since the last visit. As he sat on the exam table, his doctor shot off a series of questions:
“Do you smoke? Drink?"
“How many people are you currently having sex with?"
I did that thing with my eyes–a slow peek from off of my phone to glance at my partner's face to signify his answer needing to align with mine.
I went back to my phone.
Towards the end of our time in the office, his doctor inquired if he wanted the routine testing performed to check for STIs and HIV. My partner consented, followed by an apology from the doctor who seemingly felt awkward that he had asked about testing in my presence after he stated he was monogamous. What followed upon his exit from the room was questions on why I had received an apology when I felt like I shouldn't have.
“Should I have been offended that he asked you that?"
“No, but I know some people would feel a way."
I stood on the sidelines in silence and watched the phlebotomist draw his blood to fill two small tubes, wondering just who those people were. I later posed the question to friends in group text:
“If you're in a monogamous relationship, would you be offended if your significant other asked you to get tested or went to check on their status? Would it be indication that there is a lack of trust surrounding the relationship?"
Responses mirrored that of mine, but one friend openly admitted that she didn't feel the need to get tested because she trusted her partner enough to take him for his word regarding his sexual health. They'd been dating for roughly two and a half years, and after a few months in, she decided she felt comfortable enough going without contraception. Paperwork backed his claims that he was STD-less and HIV-negative at the commencement of their relationship and those papers have been the foundation of her trust, even if he didn't go back for repeat testing in the years to come.
She felt asking her boyfriend to get tested signified her skepticism about his commitment to her.
My GroupMe Chats with my girlfriends are a judgement-free zone, so I respected her personal decision to trust her boyfriend instead of looking for the proof in the pudding, but it did have me curious on just how many people–men and women–take their partner's word on their fidelity and their status. As much as I love who I lay next to every night, I love myself more and my health shouldn't be jeopardized because I'm holding on to promises instead of seeing some papers.
While I wasn't offended by my partner opting to get tested, nor was he offended by my choice to follow suit, we understand the importance of being in the know when it comes to finding out status. I never understood how many of us are anxious to get in bed with someone, but are afraid of discussing the importance of testing. I'm not down to play Russian Roulette with my body and my mother once told me, if I was old enough to have sex, I should be grown enough to spark the conversation on how looking healthy isn't synonymous with living healthy–get tested or get gone.
AIDS researcher Patrick Sullivan is one of the several people behind Testing Together, a program that encourages couples to take joint responsibility when it comes to finding out their sexual status. “Couples go through the whole process together. They get pretest counseling together. Get their blood drawn together. Get the results together. And make a plan on how they're going to remain HIV-negative—or how to support an HIV-positive partner to get into care and keep the negative partner negative," Sullivan says.
If you're having vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom, it's important to know there is window of time during which STDs can appear and below are the lengths of time after exposure that doctors are able to obtain positive test results:
- Two weeks for gonorrhea and chlamydia
- One week to three months for syphilis
- and six weeks to six months for HIV and Hepatitis B and C
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that while “young people and women are most severely affected by STDs, increasing rates among men contributed to the overall increase in 2014 across all diseases." Of those affected, “women face the most serious long-term health consequences" with there being over 20,000 of us becoming infertile annually due to undiagnosed STDs.
Unfortunately, it doesn't slow down or stop that person from not engaging in unprotected sex. If you're single and ready to mingle, get tested; in a monogamous relationship, get tested; married, get tested. Know your status. Mutual health, not just your own, matters and if you want to find out the prevalence of STDs where you live, check out this list from a 2013 study.
A healthy relationship is one where you can openly discuss testing without there being resistance and recognizing the significance in preventative care. In my opinion, it has less to do with trust and more to do with understanding that finding out your status and knowing your partner's is a matter of life and death in the most literal sense.
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