Most stories with happy endings do not begin with ‘I’d had one too many pink quad-vods at Sobar‘. Thankfully, most unhappy endings consist of only a terrible hangover. However, my trip to Sobar sparked a months-long, anxiety-inducing ordeal.
That night ended with me having unprotected sex with a guy I had met at pre-drinks. As a gay man I knew the risks well, having researched out of anxiety and fear of HIV when I had first come out. After we had finished, having that research swirling through my head, I asked him about his sexual history as casually as possible. The hope was that he would say this was his only time having unprotected sex, but that was not the case. I knew that I could be in trouble and I had 72 hours to obtain Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) drugs in order to possibly prevent HIV infection. I remember ordering the Uber as I walked him out of my block with a feeling of internal dread. I told the Uber driver to take me to the nearest A&E and tears fell as I realised how foolish I had been. How could I have made such an irresponsible mistake?
I waited 6 tortuous hours in A&E to see a nurse. I was alone, cold and tired, and my phone would run out of battery within the next hour. Eventually, the nurse came through the doors that I had longingly watched in the periods between disturbed sleep upon those cold, clinical chairs. She questioned me to determine whether I was at a high risk of contracting HIV. I’d had unprotected, penetrative and receptive anal sex with a gay man of unknown HIV status and sexual history, so yes, the risk was high. I was given a 5-day supply of PEP and would then obtain another 25-day supply from the pharmacy in the coming days to complete my 30-day PEP regime. I knew these drugs are not 100% effective in preventing infection in those exposed to HIV, so I was as scared as I was relieved. Taking those pills day and night for 30 days was difficult. I would have spells of anxiety and my thoughts would oscillate from self-motivational “you’re fine” pep-talks, to panicking about telling my loved-ones that I was HIV positive. After the 30 days, I would then have to wait another few months before I could have a test to confirm whether I was HIV negative. Those few months were terrifying. I had done all I could do, but I was still in an anxious state every day. I knew that HIV was a manageable and non-life-threatening disease if an individual followed the appropriate treatment, but I was acutely aware of the stigma too, and I was fearful of the repercussions that I would then have to deal with. Luckily for me, I found out I was negative when I had my test a few months later.
This event served as a wake-up call to rein in my recklessness and revaluate my behaviour. However, this is not a tale to chide those who have unprotected sex. If you make the mistake I did, it is imperative that you are well-informed, so you can deal with any possible consequences. While you may feel stupid, I can tell you that knowing that information was worth it. I implore you to educate yourself about HIV, especially if you are in a high-risk group, such as homosexual men, so that if you ever find yourself in a situation like mine you can take the steps necessary to ensure your wellbeing.