Sharing my experience of STI testing: An interview with our volunteer
Hello everyone, my name is Rémi, I am a volunteer at Društvo DIH as part of the European Solidarity Corps program. My task is to support the DIH team through their projects. As a young queer man starting in activism, we thought it would be appropriate to share my experience in this interview.
Indeed, one of DIH’s projects is called Pamet v roke, kondom na glavo! and it deals with raising awareness for STIs and testing. Overall, we want our community to feel safe and healthy. Prevention regarding sexuality is an efficient way to reach this goal. Following a brainstorming session, our colleague Tjaša came up with the idea of doing an interview where I could share my own experience in testing for STIs. By doing so, we hope more people will feel comfortable getting tested for STIs. The main objective is to lower the fear and the stigma around this topic.
Have you ever been tested for STIs or HIV? When was the first time you got tested? Tell us about that experience.
Yes, I have already been tested for STIs and HIV a few times now. Usually, when I get tested for STIs, the HIV virus is tested at the same time. I first got tested when I was 20. I was starting to have different partners and I wanted to make sure I couldn’t give them any STIs, even though I use protection. So I searched the internet, trying to find a safe place to go. I ended up on a LGBT association website and from there they recommended this place where I got tested. I was nervous at first, not because of the tiny needle -which I didn’t even feel- but because I was scared of the results. It is definitely okay to be anxious for this type of situation. The best thing is that the medical team that was taking care of me was really nice, it didn’t hurt at all, they did everything to make me comfortable. I didn’t feel any judgment from them, which is really important.
What is your perspective, opinion, point of view on testing? Why do you feel this way?
There are many reasons why I get tested. Firstly, I feel it is important to know about my own health. I know that there are many STIs that you don’t feel or see on your body but that can be bad for you if not treated. So I think it’s a good idea to get tested from time to time to make sure your body is ok.
Besides that, I get tested because, as I said before, I don’t want my sexual partners to get any STIs because of me. Even if you see that person only once, there is some respect to be shown to people. That’s how I feel.
And finally, I would say that I get tested because there are STIs that cannot be treated, but only managed with time, such as HIV. I don’t want this epidemic to spread even more, I feel testing is a responsibility.
Do you have any anecdotes about your testing process?
Usually when you go get tested to a safe place, there are not many people, it is quite discreet and you only meet the medical team. But once, I bumped into an ex sexual partner and it was f.u.n.n.y (not).
What were your fears around testing? How did you overcome them?
Personally, I don’t fear anything medical, like the needle or the process of it. But I know that a lot of my friends do! No need to worry, the medical team will do everything to make sure you’re comfortable with everything that is going on at the moment. You can take your time, you can ask questions and everything.
My main fear would be the fear of the results, but hey, that’s why I’m here. I overcome that fear by thinking about why it matters to me to get tested, why I am doing it. It is a lot of inner thinking to find the courage, but it is always worth it. If you know when the results are coming up and feel anxious about it, you can ask a friend to be with you, so that you’re not alone.
What do you feel are issues related to testing that prevent people from getting tested in bigger numbers?
I think there are many reasons. Firstly, there is the stigma around STIs. People can be ashamed of having STIs and are thus scared to be tested. This needs to change and these questions & answers can help reduce the stigma.
Plus, the information on where and how to get tested might not be perfectly organized, some people may not find a place to go, to ask questions or get tested. Using a computer and the internet is not always easy for everyone. And, if you don’t live in a big city, it can be hard to find a safe place to go to.
Some people can be scared of the needle, of the sight of blood, the white coat syndrome etc. This can easily be overcomed with some chatting with the medical team.
Finally, for some queer people who are not out yet, it can be scary to go to an LGBT+ association, because you don’t want people to recognize you, you don’t want to be outed.
What do you think would encourage people to test regularly?
I think people would get tested more if there wasn’t such a huge stigma about STIs and especially about HIV.
People would also test regularly if they were sure that they could go to a safe place every time, without any judgment from the medical team. The testing is usually done anonymously, so you don’t have to give your name nor anything. If you are not out yet, as a queer person, you should not fear getting tested, but you should go through an LGBT+ association where you will be kindly welcomed.
I believe that getting tested is a responsibility you take, towards you and towards your community.
How do you feel about the fact that free testing is available only for men?
This surprised me when I arrived in Slovenia and learned about that. Maybe STIs are more commonly found in cis men having sex with cis men but this doesn’t mean women cannot get STIs in any way. This situation doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
How is the testing situation in France?
In France, if you live in a not too small city, it’s quite easy to get tested, it’s free and anonymous. If you’re a queer person, you can go to an LGBT+ association, physically or through their website. If you live in the countryside, you might have to go through a regular testing lab. From my experience, it has always been easy, I never felt judgement from anyone, it was free, and I got my results within a week.
Do you feel like there is something you could have done differently in your testing experiences? What are the tips you would give to other people that are thinking about testing?
Now that I am 25, I think that I could have gotten tested more regularly. Sometimes, I would just not do it out of lack of motivation. If you have different sexual partners, and they change regularly, just get tested, so you can be at peace with yourself, use protection, always use a condom, whatever the situation, whatever the other person says. As long as you are not in a safe, confident relationship, use protection. You can try using PreP (with condoms), to prevent HIV contamination if the condom breaks (legebitra.si has more information on that). When you have a regular sexual partner, you can both get tested and think about getting rid off the condom, but before that happens, I would say: get tested several times a year and wear a condom!:)
If you click on this link, you will easily find how, where and when you can get tested, in a safe environment : https://legebitra.si/en/services/testing-for-hiv-and-std/
Projekt Pamet v roke, kondom na glavo! je sofinanciran s strani Mestne občine Ljubljana, Oddelek za socialo in zdravje; Ministrstva za zdravje in Fundacije za invalidske in humanitarne organizacije.