anonymous on September 2, 2011

How do I ask someone to get an HIV test?

I am a 22-year-old man and have only had sex with my ex-girlfriend. Now I want to have sex with other people, but I’m scared about catching AIDS. Even if the girl is from a good family background and has a good nature, I’m scared she might have AIDS. I want to have sex, but it’s practically impossible for me to ask any girl to have an HIV test. Even if a girl does agree, I worry that her test might be a false negative. How can I have sex without getting AIDS?

answered by Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM on September 2, 2011

You’re smart to be cautious about future sexual relationships. It can be scary to have sex with a new partner and it can be hard to ask her to get tested…but it’s a very important conversation to have, not only for your health, but for your partner’s health.

Let’s take your questions one at a time.

First, having a good family history and a good character do not protect anyone from HIV or other STDs. Good people get sexually transmitted infections. And the only way to know for sure if you or your partner have an STD is for both of you to get tested. That’s why, as a rule of thumb, getting tested for common STDs before having any sexual activity (oral, anal or vaginal) with a new partner is a good idea.

That way, you’re in it together…you’ll both know each other’s status and, if needed, you can get the treatment you need. Remember, all STDs are treatable and many are curable.

Asking someone to get tested can be difficult, but it’s very important. When you talk to your new partner about getting tested, be gentle, kind and honest. Do your best to make the person feel comfortable and cared for.

It’s also important that you go with her and get tested yourself. Many STDs don’t show signs or symptoms…so even if you feel fine, you may have an STD. Getting tested with your partner will reassure her that you care about her health, as well as yours.

How likely is an incorrect test result? As with most medical tests, there’s always a chance that a positive test result indicates an infection when there isn't one (false-positive); or a test comes back negative, even if an infection is present (false-negative).

That’s why it’s important to understand STD testing windows (the amount of time is takes for an STD to show up on a test).

If you want to get tested sooner, you can…STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea will show up within four weeks. And you may be able to catch other STDs early, as well. But you should go get tested again at the 12-week mark, just to be sure.

When you do have sex again, make sure to practice safer sex. Your friends are right: there are some things you can do to reduce your risks. For example, you can reduce your risk: if your partner has tested negative for STDs; if you’re in a monogamous relationship (have sex with only one person); if you always use a condom or dental dam when having oral, anal or vaginal sex; and if you get tested for STDs regularly.

That said, no need to avoid oral sex altogether. Just make sure your partner is free of STDs, and use a condom or dental dam each and every time.

And if you test positive for an STD…you’re not alone. Most people will experience a sexually transmitted infection during their lifetime. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 19 million new cases every year.

The good news is that, with proper medication, many people with STDs live long, healthful lives with few or no complications or further infections.

For more detailed information about HIV and AIDS risks, prevention, testing and treatment, see our Expert Guide to HIV.

I hope my answers have helped put you at ease. I encourage you to continue to educate yourself about your sexual health…and to look forward to a happy and healthy sex life with a future partner.

Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM

Dr. Christoff is a practicing physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include the treatment of HIV and syphilis along with other STDs, the medical treatment of depression and chronic fatigue, and the specific health needs of gay and lesbian patients. Dr. Christoff was educated at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine and completed his residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

Related Q&A's