2 min

What’s your HIV status?

Asking can make a difference

A new study out of Atlanta’s Centres For Disease Control (CDC) shows that knowing your partner’s HIV status could reduce the risk of infection 47-fold while using a condom reduced the risk by 20-fold. And that’s raising questions about health workers’ focus on latex.

“Our model confirms what seems to be intuitively obvious – that a sexually active person could really reduce their risk by choosing HIV-negative partners. But I don’t think we have incorporated that method very well in our prevention methods,” says Beena Varghese, the study’s lead author and a health economist with the CDC.

The study – published in the January 2002 issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases – used HIV prevalence, risk of condom failure, HIV test accuracy and risk of HIV transmission for different sex acts to quantify the risk reduction effectiveness of a person’s choice of partner, sex acts and condom use.

Choosing to suck cock over getting fucked reduced the risk by 50-fold. Picking a blowjob over fucking ass reduced the risk 13-fold.

Varghese says more people should start asking their partners about their HIV status. And HIV prevention workers should be providing the lingo to pop the question – similar to the way that condom talk was introduced to homos earlier in the AIDS epidemic.

“Maybe if we change the focus – and that is what we are hoping – people will have a more comprehensive prevention package.

“And then maybe asking your partner about their HIV status will become easier for a person and it would be acceptable to ask that question.”

John Maxwell, director of community development at the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, sees things differently.

“I think one of the things that the study did was re-enforce essentially the safer sex guidelines we’ve been using in Canada for years,” says Maxwell. “Basically that oral sex is considered a relatively low risk act and that using a condom can further reduce risk and that obviously receptive anal sex without the use of a condom is a very easy way of getting HIV.”

He also has a problem with pushing the questioning of HIV status as a risk reduction strategy.

“I think that further tries to vilify people with HIV and I think again it tries to place the responsibility for HIV prevention unfairly on one group of people rather than saying we all have a responsibility to protect ourselves.

“It’s not explicit but one could read between the lines and say that if all those HIV-positive people would be honest about their status, we wouldn’t have to worry,” says Maxwell. “Again, a lot of people may not know their HIV status. They may assume they’re negative but they are positive and there are a lot of risks associated with disclosing ones HIV status even in the gay community which has been so impacted by HIV and AIDS.”

Varghese says trust issues and determination of HIV status will be helped out by new rapid tests that are making their way through the approval process in the US. The tests can be done at a clinic or at home.

Maxwell has concerns with the accuracy of the tests, which he says are more prone to false negative and positive readings.

And he asks: “So what does that mean? People are going to walk around with little saliva kits and say I’m not going to have sex with you until you stick this in your mouth and if it turns blue you’re negative and I can have sex with you.”