Today is World Aids Day, so we asked Lizzie Jordan, one of the UK’s highest profile HIV advocates, about the importance of sexual health MOTs and exactly how out of date those terrifying ads of the 1980s are.
People are often either oblivious to HIV and think it’s irrelevant to their circumstances or think it’ll kill them. Those reactions might have been reasonable in the 80s and 90s – but not today on World AIDS Day in 2016. HIV has come a long way since then, but lots of people don’t know about it. So why would you go get tested for HIV?
Well, I could throw around the facts and statistics about HIV today in the UK. Like the fact that there are more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. Or the fact that 17 people a day are diagnosed with HIV in the UK. Every single flipping day: 17 today, 17 yesterday, 17 more tomorrow.
Now that test, that diagnosis, may well save their life! People tend to think, “Oh but that affects other people, not me.” Well, you know what? That’s what I used to think.
To set the scene, I’ve since my diagnosis been dubbed as the ‘Nigella of HIV’. You see I don’t fit into the typical stereotypes or boxes that people think other people with HIV fit. People think HIV doesn’t affect people like me: I’m white and heterosexual, so there are two stereotypes smashed for a start.
The young people I meet each week through my work with Think2Speak in schools across the UK, don’t think HIV affects or could – directly or indirectly – affect them.
“In the UK, there are approximately 20,000 people who are HIV positive and don’t realise it. And it is these people I want to reach, who I’d like to hear my story.”
Here’s the thing with a virus, a virus like HIV: a virus doesn’t see boxes, doesn’t see people. Doesn’t see your gender, your sexuality, your skin colour or your age, doesn’t see how often you have sex or how you like to have sex. It simply wants a home, it wants a host in which to replicate itself. It doesn’t discriminate.
If, like me, you know you are HIV positive, you can be treated. You can live well and expect to for a very long time – sorry folks, you’re not getting rid of me that easy. You can also, with successful treatment, which is often one pill a day, prevent onwards transmission by becoming ‘undetectable’.
‘Undetectable’ does not mean ‘cured’. An undetectable viral load means that so few copies of the virus are present in the blood that today’s monitoring tests are unable to detect them. Even with an undetectable viral load, however, an HIV-positive person still has the virus.
But by being undetectable, I cannot pass HIV on to my partner. Yes, I do have a healthy relationship, a healthy sex life, and if I wanted to, I could conceive naturally too. So much has changed with HIV in the last 30 odd years; the iceberg and tombstone campaigns people still remember are as out of date as the flares and mullets that accompanied them.
In the UK, there are approximately 20,000 people who are HIV positive and don’t realise it. And it is these people I want to reach, who I’d like to hear my story. Could you be one of them?
We’re all a product of two people having unprotected sex, so surely there shouldn’t be any shame in admitting we’ve ‘done the deed’, been between the sheets, got jiggy, however you want to phrase ‘having had sex’, that actually we’re no longer a virgin. And being proactive, responsible adults it’s sensible to take a HIV test or go to a sexual health clinic and ask for a full MOT.
There are many ways you can access a HIV test, all of which involve testing a bit of your blood. You can:
• Buy an instant home HIV test, which gives you a result in just 15 minutes: www.hivselftest.co.uk
• Order a postal sampling kit, where you fill a little tube with a few drops of blood and mail it back to them. You can get a free HIV kit from the charity Saving Lives by entering the code SAVE16: www.takeatestuk.com
• Visit a GUM clinic. To find out where to test near you visit www.startswithme.org.uk
Schedule a sexual health check-up in the diary in the same way you would an eye test or a dental check-up. Testing really shouldn’t be feared: if you get a positive result, you can still live a normal, healthy life and do everything that anyone else can do. It’s so much better to know your status and be in control.
My blog about living with HIV: lizziejordan.com
My story: standardissuemagazine.com/lifestyle/whats-in-a-label