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Let’s work together to prevent hiv – straight people listen up!

Heterosexual people now account for about 40% of new HIV diagnoses, yet 73% of heterosexual Brits claim to have never done an HIV test. Which begs the question, why aren’t straight people taking action to protect themselves from HIV?  

Just like other STIS, HIV can affect literally anyone. But modern science has meant that those diagnosed with HIV can live a long, happy life like anyone else AND make the disease untransmittable. Research means we know a lot more about how to protect ourselves from the virus, for example by wearing condoms and testing regularly. Those who do not have HIV and are eligible can take daily tablets known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) which can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by over 99%.  

I’ve been taking PrEP daily for almost 2 years, I have sexual health screenings every 3 months, and use protection with casual partners. So it seems strange to me that HIV is still an issue when there’s so much awareness around it and simple steps we can take to protect ourselves.  

However, as a gay man, I live in a sort of bubble. HIV is so prominently spoken about in my community due to our history with it.  

Following the first reported case of HIV in 1981, hundreds of thousands of queer people (predominantly gay and bisexual men) started losing their lives to AIDS-related-illnesses. Being a community whose existence was still hugely stigmatised in society, treatment of HIV and AIDS weren’t exactly a priority. The President of the US at the time, Ronald Reagan, basically refused to acknowledge it even existed. Under his presidency almost 90,000 Americans lost their lives to AIDS due to their complete reluctance to take it seriously. His press secretary even laughed about it being known as “gay plague” during a press conference. Think of it this way, look how quickly governments acted to find solutions and treatment for COVID-19…I think it’s pretty safe to say that if HIV was affecting predominantly heterosexuals in the 80s, it would’ve been a very different story.  

Because of the queer community’s history with HIV, we talk about it regularly and remember those we have lost. That’s why many of us are surprised when we speak to straight people about it and they have absolutely zero knowledge on the subject. It’s not their fault at all, it’s all about education – or a lack thereof. A lot of the societal stigma around HIV still carries, hence why over a fifth of straight people believe they are unlikely to catch HIV, so never test for it.  

The reality is that everyone should be testing for HIV, regardless of gender or sexuality.  

The World Health Organisation set targets for us to stop all new HIV transmissions by 2030, and only by working together can we make this a reality. Here’s what we can do: 

Regularly Test for HIV – Testing is the most effective way of preventing the spread of HIV. It ensures we know our status and can receive the relavent treatment if we are positive to ensure it doesn’t spread! Tests are often free and easy to do. You can have them done at your local clinic, or if you’re nervous (and busy) you can do a full STI screening at home! 

Use Protection – We all know that condoms are a very effective way of preventing STIs, including HIV. So if it’s a casual partner, or you don’t know your / their status, wrap that willy! Safe sex is incredibly important besties, especially if you’re not eligible for PrEP. 

Educate Ourselves and Others – Education is an incredibly powerful tool.  Educating ourselves around HIV and AIDS not only means we can be better prepared to protect ourselves, but it also means we can share that knowledge with others. If you see or hear misinformation, call it out and correct people. Knowledge is power, baby! 

Make Sure Our Partners Are Tested – It’s all well and good making sure we are tested regularly and use protection, but like most forms of protection, nothing is 100% guaranteed. Ensuring the people we are having sex with are also regularly tested is crucial. If I see on someone’s Grindr profile that they were tested outside of 6 months (some will even say as late as 2022), you best believe I’m questioning it. If they’re uncomfortable talking about it, then they’re probably not the best person to be having sex with.   

Get On PrEP – If you’re eligible, PrEP is an incredible tool for preventing the spread of HIV. It reduces the risk by over 99% if taken as prescribed. You just need to have regular check-ups to see if there are any side effects, but these are very rare. I take my little blue pill every morning to ensure I’m keeping myself and my partners safe. 

Sign Petitions – Over 66% of people who are eligible for PrEP aren’t able to access it, primarily due to difficulties getting appointments. So try to keep up to date with any petitions that are going to encourage greater focus on HIV treatment / prevention and sign that puppy! Then share it too.  

Fundraise – The work HIV charities do is incredible, and a lot of the time they run on donations. Not only do they support those who are living with HIV and are in the most vulnerable of groups. But they also provide resources to hard-to-reach communities, such as testing and educational materials to name a few! So whether you donate to a charity, take part in fundraisers or start one yourself, a little bit can go a long way.  

If we all work together, ending new cases of HIV by 2030 IS possible. So please try to implement some of the above points into your daily life. They’re easy to do and could save a life. 

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