To be honest I never thought I would test myself for HIV. Better yet, I never thought I would test myself for HIV on camera to edit, upload, and share online. While writing this post, I received a call from two French media outlets including Europe 1, that were developing stories around the possible approval of home HIV testing in France where it is currently illegal. The journalists, who have been following my Twitter updates with the play by play of my self-testing, specifically asked how I felt about my experience of testing for HIV at home. Here is what I was able to share:
In thinking about my recent decision to test for HIV publicly, I have to admit my comfort level in doing so was in part wrapped in a confidence that my "pregnancy wand," the title my roommate so aptly gave the test stick included in the first FDA approved in-home HIV test on the U.S. market, which displays results in a one line/two line format evocative of an in-home pregnancy test, would come back negative. This confidence does not mean I have never put myself at any less risk as someone who has tested positive for HIV as a result of high-risk behavior, hence the origin of our story, but, since 2008, I have maintained my commitment to using protection each and every time along with testing regularly which does not guarantee, but helps to reduce the anxiety.
Tests in hand thanks to a donation from OraSure Technologies, who recently supported our HUMAN INTONATION presents... Fashion Meets Music to Raise Awareness event in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I planned to raffle off two in-home HIV tests at the event when it occurred to me that it made sense to take the test first so I would know what it is like.
As I started to explore the test, I can also thank my roommate for simply asking before I cracked open the box, "You're going to film this right?" In agreement I replied, "Of course!" Although I relish the thought of providing a candid "how to" guide for testing oneself for HIV for the YouTube generation who looks for how to videos on everything from eyebrow shaping to how to do "The Cup Song", my motivation for testing myself online stems from seeing the opportunity to further reduce the stigma around HIV testing period. With the number of people in this day and age who have never been tested and do not know their status out of fear, misconceptions, and the shame around testing, I am all for another outlet where people may become willing to test. The more we see people testing in their daily lives, the more we will all adjust to the idea that HIV testing is for everyone.
Secondly, I am not the first to put myself out there by sharing my experience of testing myself for HIV online, but I can say from my research that the few that have done so have been dominated by males and everyone has done it a bit differently. I can only hope as a heterosexual, African American woman with my own personality quirks that my approach to testing online will reach a demographic that has not been reached by my fellow mavericks.
Check out the video here:
Now that we have our results, here are the top four things I learned from using the in-home HIV test:
• BE FOCUSED: You must be focused to take this test. Be mentally present to take the test without distractions, when you are calm, and in a good frame of mind.
• READ: This is not the time to wing it. Read ALL the instructions.
• BE PREPARED: It is a good idea to have a game plan for your test results, especially if your test comes back positive. A positive result from the in-home HIV test does not mean you are definitely infected with HIV, instead a follow up confirmation test should be taken with a medical professional right away.
• USE SUPPORT: Even if you feel fairly confident that your test will come back negative, it is not a bad idea to test yourself with a trusted friend present simply for moral support.
It is not as invasive or complicated as some may think. Once a guarded process only administered by a health care professional, today testing for HIV has become more accepted as a routine part of our overall health care to the point where we now have the option to administer the test to ourselves.
In short, I liked the idea of testing myself for HIV and felt comfortable doing so, but I also acknowledge that I felt comfortable with my expected results. On the back end of taking the test I do wonder, "What will be the experience of those who do not feel confident or who conversely get a result that they are not expecting? Are people really ready to handle receiving a positive test result at home and will everyone be able to rationally take the proper next steps in following up with a medical professional for confirmation and treatment as needed?" Only time will tell to what extent the use of in-home HIV testing will become widely practiced, but for today if you are focused, read, prepared, and use support, in-home HIV testing is a great way to take knowing your status (literally) into your own hands.