My apologies, the blog I hope you’re about to read, is more formal than usual because I really need to drive home that fact that anonymity has very little, if anything to do with the transmission of HIV. In other words, anonymity is not a mode of transmission of HIV.
This week New Brunswick media has exploded with news of a local person who has recently tested positive for HIV. We’ve learned that the person in question engaged in unprotected sex with approximately two-dozen people met anonymously online. As a result, those who have had anonymous, unprotected sex with someone whose sexual health status is unknown to them are being encouraged to seek testing.
First, the narrative of this story is edging dangerously close to being about anonymous sex between men, when in reality it’s about unprotected sex between anyone. Secondly, transmission of HIV, or any other sexually transmitted or blood born infection (STBBI), has nothing to do with anonymous sex with someone whose sexual health status is unknown, but rather when UNPROTECTED SEX happens with someone who is infected with an STBBI. And thirdly, while it is extremely important for someone who has had unprotected sex to seek testing, it did not JUST become important, it has always been important In fact, anyone who is sexually active might want to think about routine STBBI testing.
It’s time we clear a few things up. Anonymous sex • Sex with someone whose sexual health status is unknown and, • Unprotected sex, are three very different things.
- Anonymous sex is having sex with someone you don’t know,
- Sex with someone whose sexual health status you’re unaware of, is just that, and can happen anonymously or with someone you know, and
- Unprotected sex is having sex with anyone, in any situation without using condoms or risk reduction strategies, regardless of sexual health status.
Anonymous, unprotected sex with someone whose sexual health status is unknown is AS risky as unprotected sex with some one who is familiar but whose sexual health is unknown, and here’s why. The line between anonymous and familiar is pretty thing. There are lots of people we would not consider to be anonymous to us, but whose sexual health status is completely foreign. The barista at our favourite coffee place, a colleague, neighbours. We may speak to these people nearly everyday. We might have long drawn out conversations with them. That doesn’t mean we know what’s happening inside of their body.
It’s probably fair to say that most people think that there are three ways to prevent infection; 1) Abstinence/First Time, 2) Condoms, and 3) Knowing that you and your partner(s) free of infection. Lets explore these things;
1) Abstinence/First time may seem obvious, but most people forget that there is more than one way to contract STBBI’s. Sharing injection equipment with someone who is living with an STBBI. Receiving a tattoo or piercing from someone who is not using new equipment may expose us to if that equipment was used on someone who was living with an STBBI. Sharing personal hygiene equipment like razors, toothbrushes, and manicure equipment can lead to exposure to an STBBI if that equipment was used on someone who is living with an STBBI,
2) Condoms, again obvious, but they need to be used properly. Properly meaning that;
- They are put on before sex starts, and removed after sex is finished,
- They are put on properly,
- They are not damaged,
- Water-based lube is used; this will help reduce friction breaks. Don’t use oil based lube, it may cause the condom to break.
- A new condom should be used with each partner. Remember that when having sex with more than one person at once, moving from one to the other without changing condoms means that you have just exposed person B to person A’s body fluids. New partner, new condom.
- Condoms must be used only once, they are not designed to come off and go back on again. Condoms can be expensive, but there are usually places where they are free.
3) Knowing that you and your partner are free from STBBI’s is a really grey area. This is because it can move into the inner working of the relationship, an area we are in no way qualified to talk about. What I will say is that rarely do we truly know our partners sexual health status, this is because of a number of reason, but mostly because ones sexual health status is not static, it’s chances.
While anonymity makes it difficult for partner notification, it has very little, if anything to do with transmission in the grand scheme of things. Sure, it probably means you are not going to know your partners sexual health status, but in reality how often do we really know our partners sexual health status. Consistently providing and promoting education, easy access to regular testing, and condoms would make the issue of anonymity ever more moot because, quite frankly they would be using condoms and getting tested anyway.
Furthermore, while there is no silver bullet to prevention, and there is no way to make sex totally safe, there are ways to reduce nearly all of the risk. Implementing interventions, and taking charge of ones own health is the best way to prevent infection. As we know, Getting Tested BLOWS. If anyone has figured out a way to put a fun spin on it let us know, but it’s also crucial. We need to applaud everyone who seeks testing and make it easier to do so. Using condoms can be awkward, but is again crucial, and again we need to applaud and encourage people who use them.
Can you imagine where we would be if everyone used condoms and was able to seek routine testing?