I get tested last week, and I re-noticed one thing about my psychology that always comes up when I get tested: I got really anxious about it.
It’s weird. I try to get tested about once a year or so, and for most of the year, I don’t worry at all about my status. But then — during the time that elapses between getting the test and receiving the results — I start freaking out. I get more and more worried. I start thinking about the conversations I’ll need to have with recent partners if I’ve got a sexually transmitted infection. I start thinking about all the life changes I’ll need to make if I’m HIV-positive. Only when I receive the results do I calm down!
I do this even when I’m in a situation that makes me almost totally positive that I’m clean. For instance, even if I’ve continuously been in the same monogamous relationship with a partner I’m sure is faithful since my last test … I still worry.
I don’t think I’m incredibly neurotic, or anything like that (or at least, no more neurotic than the next person). I do suspect that this highlights something about how people think that can help explain why people don’t get tested.
That is: Just considering scary possibilities is, well, scary. Just putting ourselves in a position to learn something bad makes us fear that we’ll learn something bad. It’s much more psychologically difficult to allow ourselves to imagine a terrifying negative possibility, than it is to simply ignore that possibility entirely.
I’m not sure how to work against this problem. Providing free and easy testing is good, but I think it’s probably best if we find ways to put testing out in the open so that people can’t conveniently forget it. I know that when people set up free testing stations at high-traffic events, those stations get lots of visitors. So it’s not that people are anti-testing, exactly. And most people I know admit that getting tested is important, when it comes up in conversation! So it’s not that people don’t think it’s important. People are busy, of course — that’s the enemy of all preventive healthcare, from working out to testing: it’s simply hard to make time.
But I really think it’s more that people don’t like putting ourselves in a position to feel anxious. If we’re directly reminded of an issue (e.g. by an in-your-face testing station), then we get tested … otherwise, we prefer not to even think about it. Because then we have to acknowledge the potential consequences.
People should be scared of sexually transmitted infections, of course. So I don’t want to encourage people to feel less anxious. What other action can be taken? I guess … simply keep supporting programs that do out-in-the-open testing is good … not to mention sex education that emphasizes our responsibility for our health and that of our partners, etc.