On a daily basis I get maybe thirty or forty emails from people reading this column or people visiting my website. Some are asking for support, others asking questions about HIV, a few are even hate-mail (the crazies are everywhere) – and an alarming number telling me that they’ve never had a HIV and/or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) screening.
Of course I always handle these messages sensitively. I suggest that they should go and book themselves in for a full STI screening and even provide a link to the Terrence Higgins Trust website where they can pop in their
postcode and find a clinic near them. But the whole exchange often leaves me baffled and concerned. Many of these people are in their mid-to-late twenties – how they have got this far in life (presumably having sex along the way) and never having had a check up?
Is it simply a case of sticking their heads in the sand or is there something more going on here? Having spoken to some of them in more depth there’s definitely some ostrich like behaviour for sure, for some ignorance really is bliss, if you don’t know something is wrong then you don’t need to worry about it – but for others it’s a fear of the testing process itself, and this can only be due to lack of education around the topic.
Going for a STI screening really is not that big a deal. Honestly. I went for one only the other month (I go every six months – and so should you if you’re sexually active). Here’s what happened:
I arrived at the clinic at about 10am. I sat around watching Jeremy Kyle in the waiting room until I was called through by a doctor. They ask you a few simple questions:
Why’ve you come in today? “routine testing”,
Do you have any symptoms? “none”,
Any pre-existing conditions? “HIV-positive”.
After that I head back to the waiting room for a couple of minutes for a spot more Jezza (turns out he wasn’t the father). Then a nurse calls me through to one of the other rooms. She takes a couple of throat swabs (say “ahhhh”), a tiny swab from the end of my penis (it does pinch a little, but it doesn’t hurt), and a swab from my ass. Another nurse comes into to take a couple of vials of blood and then I’m given a little bottle to go put a urine sample in. I’m good to go. That’s it! takes about 45 minutes, one hour tops. They’ll text me any results in two weeks time.
(If I didn’t already know that I was HIV-Positive they would have also offered a HIV Rapid Test, which gives you a result in 15 minutes)
It’s incredibly important that each of us get regular STI screenings. Most sexual health charities recommend twice a year or more frequent if you’re more sexually active. Whilst you may not have any symptoms you may still carry any number of infections without even knowing it. I myself had absolutely none of the ‘flu-like’ symptoms often associated with HIV and only found out at one of my regular screenings.
Getting checked out doesn’t just mean that you’re looking after yourself, it means you’re showing respect and looking out for those who you sleep with – after all you’d hope anyone you slept with to have been checked recently, wouldn’t you?
So if you’ve never been checked out, or maybe it’s been far too long since your last test perhaps today’s good deed could be calling up your clinic and booking yourself in for a little MOT. Don’t know where your nearest one is – sorry, that’s no excuse. Head over to THT.org.uk and click ‘Sexual health’ to use their ‘Service Finder’ tool.
How’re we all doing? What’s that? Speak up I can’t hear you!
Just a little blog post to let you know that the April 2013 issue of ATTITUDE Magazine is out now in digital format, available on iPad, iPhone, Android and pretty much any other device going – you can get your copy here. For those of you who like something to hold in your hand it’ll be on new-stands from this Wednesday 6th March.
This issue our cover star is the stunning James Franco talking about cruising bars, leather and the Wizard of Oz. Zac Efron’s new film ‘The Paperboy’, lots of men in swimwear and my coming out piece. Yes that’s right – this month is the first month you’ll see my face in ATTITUDE Magazine, well all of it anyway. I talk about my journey so far, the support I’ve received and the highs and lows of my short time so far living with HIV.
Check it out!
If you follow me on Twitter (and you really should) you may have noticed that I changed my avatar, name and posted a photo of myself. Yes, all of my face, not a quarter of it, or obscured by a book, or an owl or something.
I’d always planned to reveal my true identity on the 1st March, just a couple of days ahead of my Attitude Magazine column – on the day I headed to Brighton for the Student Pride weekend I’m attending. But last night I was over with a friend, I was talking about the whole thing and getting more and more nervous. Then one follower on twitter suggested I should treat it like a plaster and just rip it off, get it over and done with quickly.
After a little thought, and a large Gin & Tonic I did it. I thought “She’s right. To hell with it. 5 days isn’t going to change anything” and posted “Hello, my name is Tom, and I’m @UKPositiveLad” (see screenshot of tweet to the right).
To say the response was positive is putting it mildly. I only had my personal phone on me, and not my UKPositiveLad mobile, but when I came home I saw that I’d received 53 DMs, 503 mentions and loads more RTs and Favourites. Completely overwhelming.
I want to thank you all for your kind words, support and encouragement. It’s been quite a journey from being diagnosed (not all that long ago really) to starting the blog as “Sam” through to coming out as Tom.
Fear not though, I’m still the same blogger and twit(terer) you’ve come to know over all these months – I’m just doing it with a face and my real name now. It’s pretty liberating.
I look forward to speaking to you all soon, I’m going leave you all with a little YouTube video (a bit camp) but the song pretty much sums up how I’m feeling at the moment!
Tuesday morning I was on Gaydio again, doing my HIV guest spot.
As before you can download and listen to the show in MP3 by clicking HERE
If you want me to appear on your show please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the contact page on this site.
It’s been a little while since I was a student, six years ago to be precise (oh I feel old), but I was honoured to be invited down to this year’s Student Pride 2013.
For a lot of attendees Student Pride will be the first ‘Pride’ event that they ever go to, so it’s important that the organisers get the weekend right, and that they have done.
There are multiple events, with a little something for everyone. For those that are old enough there are clubbing nights, with special performances from the likes of X-Factor’s Lucy Spraggan, Class A and Capital FM’s James Barr. During the day there are job fairs, theatre productions, live music and debates.
There will also be sexual health advice and FREE rapid HIV testing available courtesy the good people from ’56 Dean Street’. Make sure to stop by and check your status, it only takes a few minutes and could save your life and the lives of anyone you play with.
Student Pride 2013 runs from 1st – 3rd March 2013 in Brighton on the South Coast of England. If you’re a student and 16 years ago or more you can GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!
See you there!
Just a quick note to let you know that the March 2013 issue of ATTITUDE Magazine is out now, and wow is it a tasty one! This month is is ATTITUDE’s famed ‘Naked Issue’ – featuring toned torsos and buttocks from the likes of Shayne Ward and Colin Gentry.
But fear not dear reader it’s not all style and no substance, this Naked Issue ATTITUDE have teamed up with NAT (National AIDS Trust) to talk about safer sex, condom use, HIV and the importance of getting tested – a must read.
Oh, and don’t forget my column – this month I talk about how I’m having ups and downs with my medication but how I remain thankful that it’s now, and not 30 years ago. Find out why…
Lots of love,
Well hello there,
This week I’m lucky enough to have a guest post from our favourite TV doctor and fellow Attitude columnist, the handsome Doctor Christian Jessen. In this post we won’t be discussing embarrassing bodies or healthy eating, but rather condoms – the simple tool for safer sex…
We all know that condoms offer us the best protection (98% effective when used properly) from both STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and unwanted pregnancy, but are you sure that you’re using them correctly?
Don’t be so sure: a study of 1,400 teens by Southampton University found that 6% had put the condom on too late and another 6% took the condom off too soon.
Here are some simple DOs and DON’Ts to make sure you’re using your condoms properly:
- Only use approved latex or polyurethane condoms that bear the BS Kite mark.
- Make sure you have the right condom for YOU – just like penises they come in many sizes.
They can be measured for at home by you and ordered online to save any embarrassment.
- Check the date before you use it, out of date condoms become brittle and break.
- Make sure you have the condom the right way round BEFORE you apply it to the head of your penis.
- With one thumb and finger grip the tip of the condom to squeeze out any air, then use your other hand to roll the condom as far down as you can.
- Use a water or silicon based lube – this reduces friction and reduces risk of breaking the condom.
- If you’re having a long session consider taking a break and switching to a new condom.
- If you’re playing with more than one partner (lucky you) – use a different condom for each person. The same applies to sex toys, put on condom on them and change with every partner.
- Pull out whilst you’re still hard – making sure to hold the base of the condom.
- Throw it in the bin, don’t flush it.
- Don’t use an out of date condom – they can break more easily, and we don’t want that.
- Don’t bite condom wrappers open – you may damage the condom inside.
Remember that long nails can also cause damage to condoms.
- Don’t unroll the condom until you’re ready to roll it down and over your penis.
- Don’t use an oil based lube (this includes Vaseline and baby oil) – the oil weakens the condom and can lead to it failing.
- Don’t re-use a condom, this shouldn’t need saying but we’ll throw it in anyway.
- Don’t use two condoms at once – the friction between them can tear both condoms.
- Don’t use a condom and a female condom (or femidom) together for the same reason.
You can buy condoms at supermarkets, pharmacies and most convenience stores, if you’re too shy to do it in person why not order yourself some online from NHS Freedoms, and don’t forget that you can always pick some up for free from your local Sexual Health Clinic.
Doctor Christian Jessen
Today I’m taking a day off. Today is all about me.
I’m struggling to remember the last time I actually took a proper breather. I’m either at my day job which has me in the office from 8am, or I’m running up and down the country attending various charity events, writing my column, or replying to the deluge of emails I get each day. I’m actually and literally exhausted.
To quote The Beautiful South “You can see where we‘ve been shopping by the bag beneath our eyes”.
Today I’ve taken a day of leave. I was supposed to get up at 9:30am (a nice lie in) I slept straight through that alarm and woke up at 11:38. I’m pretty sure that’s a combination of the lack of sleep I’ve had lately and my meds. I’m finding dragging myself out of bed impossible of late – but a 12 hour sleep is unheard of for me.
As we speak I’m on a train to go and see my family. I didn’t get time to see my niece on her birthday last week because I had a speaking engagement, and I feel awful about that. But today I’m going to make up for it. It’ll be great to see my parents, my sisters and my niece and nephew and just be me for a day.
So the emails, the phone calls, the whole HIV thing can go on the back burner for a day, starting…. NOW.