You should be able to talk to a partner about anything – but bringing up HIV prevention methods can be a bit awkward. However, if either of you is at risk for HIV transmission, this is a conversation that you need to have.
When it comes to HIV prevention methods, knowing your status is an important first step. Everyone should get tested for HIV at least once – but 40% of Americans do not know their status. Even more alarming is that only one of those at high risk of HIV transmission has completed an annual test.
Not knowing your current HIV status can contribute to a higher rate of transmission. But this is preventable through regular testing. So, it should be something to discuss between you and your sexual partner(s), regardless of your official relationship status.
That said, bringing up the conversation can be a bit uncomfortable – so here are some useful tips to make talking to your partner about HIV prevention methods a bit easier.
Educate Yourself First
It is essential to have an informed conversation about HIV prevention methods and risk factors. There is a lot of misunderstanding and stigma around HIV transmission – often due to miseducation about the disease. So, before you bring up the conversation, it’s helpful to do some research to learn the basics about HIV, testing, and prevention.
For instance, learn more about how HIV can be transmitted and the ways it can’t. HIV is a virus that is transmitted through bodily fluids, most commonly blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and anal fluids.
It is interesting to note that risk factors for HIV transmission vary based on factors like gender, drug use, and sexual orientation. For instance, for males, the majority of new HIV diagnoses were attributed to male-to-male sexual contact, whereas for women it was more highly attributed to heterosexual contact or injection drug use.
Understanding yours and your partner’s risk factors is vital so you can speak more confidently about HIV prevention methods. In addition, having some factual information on hand can help you establish the importance of getting tested with your partner.
You may want to learn some of the answers to questions that your partner will likely have, such as:
- How often do people need to be tested for HIV? (Answer: The CDC recommends an annual test for anyone sexually active and every 3 months if you are at higher risk for transmission.)
- Can you get HIV if neither partner has it? (Answer: No, but it is important to know your HIV status and use HIV prevention methods if either of you is at risk for transmission.)
- How is HIV transmitted? (Answer: Through bodily fluid exchange, so most often through sexual intercourse or shared needles.)
- How long does an HIV test take? (Answer: There are several kinds of tests. A blood test at a testing clinic will take several days for results, but there is also an FDA-approved rapid HIV test you can do at home.)
Consider Your Conversational Approach
Make sure you are having the conversation at a good time when you both feel safe and comfortable with each other. For instance, it should be in a private setting when both of you feel calm and at ease talking about this topic.
Starting the conversation is probably the most nerve-wracking part – but this is a conversation you need to have with any partner. Try starting off with something like, “I’d like to have a pretty serious conversation with you. It might get a little uncomfortable, but it’s something important that we should talk about.”
Again, there is a lot of unfortunate negative stigma around HIV. Your partner may have a negative reaction to the subject and assume you are accusing them of putting you at risk. So, it is imperative to avoid any accusatory language or pointing fingers (i.e. “You’ve never been tested and that’s really bad”). Instead, ask questions that open up a two-way conversation, like “Have you ever had an HIV test? Do you know your current status?”
Another tip is to share your personal experience, thoughts, and reasoning for discussing HIV prevention methods and testing. You can also make it something for you both to do together by saying, “I’m going to get tested next week and I’d like for you to come along with me. Is that something you’d want to do, too?”
Come Up with a Game Plan
Finally, make sure that you both discuss other ways to prevent HIV exposure. For instance, plan out what type of HIV test to get (at home or at a clinic), where you will go to be tested, and how frequently you will be going for testing.
In the meantime, talk to your partner about HIV prevention methods to use until you are sure of your status. This includes:
- Using condoms to prevent HIV transmission for all sexual intercourse
- Establishing whether the relationship is exclusive, as any other sexual partners should share or check their HIV status
- How frequently both partners should get tested
- Limiting other risk factors, such as sharing needles for injection use
And lastly, you and/or your partner may want to talk to a doctor about taking PrEP to lower the risk of transmission most significantly. PrEP is a medication that is up to 99% effective at preventing transmission after exposure.
You will need to discuss going on PrEP for HIV prevention with your doctor to be sure it is the right option for you. Many programs, such as Ready Set PrEP, offer financial assistance for people who do not have health insurance to cover the cost.
If you are wondering how to ask your partner to get tested for HIV, the best answer is to prepare and let the conversation happen. Remember, it may be awkward or uncomfortable at first, but it is crucial to keep yourself and your partner protected.
Educating yourself about HIV transmission, risk factors, and prevention methods can make the conversation a bit easier. Then develop a game plan with your partner and discuss other ways to prevent HIV transmission that you both can start doing – such as taking PrEP.
If you need any help with finding an HIV testing site or have questions about HIV, PrEP, and prevention methods, please connect with us at SIDE by SIDE. Our team would be more than happy to provide you with resources and get you connected with healthcare providers in your area.