As a gay man, keeping healthy doesn’t just mean cutting down fat in our diet and getting more exercise. It also means taking care of our sexual health. I know it’s easy enough to do; you just have to wear a condom. Simple. But, that’s clearly not the case given the number of gay men still being diagnosed with HIV. This isn’t meant to be some sort of crusade, far from it. I’d say 70% of the time I’ve not used protection without a second thought for my own safety (or my partners). It’s just easier to go bareback, or it feels better, or it doesn’t make the top feel good, or a whole host of other reasons that are frequently used.
I’ve always been the sort of person who gets tested every six months just to be on the safe side which was an easy task when I lived in Glasgow. It’s the biggest city in Scotland and it has more than enough clinics which made getting tested as easy as popping to Tesco for a carton of milk. Now, that is most certainly not the case; it takes planning if I want to get tested in the Highlands. That’s because there isn’t a clinic on my doorstep anymore. In my case, I don’t have it too bad because I only have to travel thirty minutes north or south and I have arrived at a clinic. There are some parts of the Highlands though where you have to make a two hour round trip just to spend fifteen minutes getting pricked and prodded.
Unfortunately there are only seven (that I can find) sexual health clinics in the Highlands. That’s seven clinics to take care of 211,000 people over an area of more than 11,000 square miles. It’s a terrible reason, but I can understand why some people are reluctant to get tested. If it doesn’t fit in with something they already have planned some people lose a good chunk of their day getting tested.
It’s not even like people are able to go to their GP either; or at least you can’t go to my GP. I had an appointment for a completely unrelated issue which took about 3-5 minutes to diagnose and since we were so fast I decided to ask if we could take some blood so that they could send it off for an HIV test. The response I got? “We don’t do that here.” I know that doctors are under a lot of stress with their jobs, but surely if somebody wants to know their status that would be something they would happily oblige with. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case though. I simply booked an appointment at a clinic in my closest city and got tested there; but what about the person that gets this response from the doctor then does nothing about it afterwards? I fail to see how going through life not knowing your status and putting yourself, and others, in danger because of a lack of services to help is better than creating these services in the first place.
So I have decided to start my PrEP journey after being reckless one too many times. So far, aside from the copious amounts of blood and urine I’ve had to give, everything has been pretty plain sailing. I have been lucky enough to not have any side-effects of the medication ( Emtricitabine/Tenofovir Disoproxil, if you’re wondering) and all seems to be going well. I have another check up in a couple of weeks to make sure there are no issues with kidneys and what not so I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that too.
The takeaway here, get tested regularly and be safe, guys.