I’m Married…Do I Still Need to Get an HIV Test?
’m willing to bet most married people don’t use condoms. As a woman I encountered while tabling at a health fair the other day might put it, “Isn’t that the whole point Marriage is about trust. Unplanned pregnancies and getting HIV shouldn’t be an issue once you’re married.” And maybe she has a point. So why can’t I help but cringe during my work day as a sexual health hotline specialist every time a caller tells me, “I’m married so I haven’t been tested in years.”?
Maybe it’s because as a married woman who has worked in the sexual and reproductive health field for almost 8 years I know that a wedding ring isn’t nearly as effective at protecting you against HIV/STIs as a condom, but before I climb onto my sex educator soapbox, I think it’s important to mention that I don’t use condoms with my husband either. However, I think what bothers me when women dismiss regular testing as a part of their sexual healthcare is the implication that getting tested must mean you don’t trust your partner or that someone has to be cheating.
Most days when I talk to women about missed periods, yeast infections and even fertility awareness as they ask for help pinpointing their ovulation so they can discover who the father of their child is (the hardest calls are the ones where I honestly can’t confirm between the two men because the sexual encounters were too close together) I’m just happy to get a woman to see a gynecologist. With more and more people being unable to afford insurance and access routine healthcare, it’s not out of the ordinary for women to tell me that the only time they see and OB/GYN is when they’re pregnant. What bothers me most about the idea that HIV/STI testing is unnecessary in a committed relationship is the idea that those things are the only reason to see a medical professional.
I still get tested regularly, and it’s not because I don’t trust my husband, it’s more so because while I’m getting my annual exam to make sure I’m free from fibroids, ovarian cysts and bacterial vaginosis, I figure why the hell not? With 14 million new HPV infections occurring each year, there’s more to maintaining your sexual health than making sure your boyfriend hasn’t “burnt” you. So please, save the “I’m married. STIs don’t happen to me” excuse for someone who thinks that moral superiority actually means anything to cervical cancer. STIs don’t just happen to promiscuous commitment-phobes, they happen to women who have been asymptomatic for years who although may be faithful to their current partner, haven’t had a pap smear in years so they don’t know they’re infected with HPV. They happen to women who don’t realize the “change in their bodily odor” is not due to age but a persistent case of bacterial vaginosis that the never bothered to get diagnosed all because they were too busy being a wife instead of a patient. And yes, they happen to women who thought that marriage was supposed to mean trust, but their husbands missed the message and have now infected them with HIV after years of infidelity.
Much like a pre-nup, if your partner has the best intentions for you and nothing to hide, an HIV/STI test shouldn’t make or break your marriage. Anyone that loves you should want you to take whatever steps you think are necessary to protect yourself without being offended. But most importantly, married or not, your love for your partner should never take priority over your respect for yourself. This is coming from a woman who STILL hasn’t managed to schedule a wellness visit for herself despite making sure hubby got his cholesterol check and my toddler got her flu shot. I get it, as a wife and mother it becomes all too easy to put yourself last and convince yourself that it’s OK because you’re “living the dream”. But don’t get it twisted: Sexual health isn’t something that ceases because homeboy decided to make an “honest woman out of you” and you shouldn’t use the comfort of marriage and kids to stop prioritizing your health as a woman.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.
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