CHICAGO (AP) - Newly dating and slightly anxious, two men bared their arms for blood tests and pondered the possibility that one of them, or both, could be infected with HIV. An innovative program _ called Testing Together _ would allow them to hear their test results minutes later, while sitting side by side.
Eric Zemanovic, a dental hygienist, and Dominic Poteste, a restaurant server, had been dating two months after a yearlong friendship. In the past, they’d both practiced safe sex and got regular HIV tests. Both are in their early 30s. They’d grown up when AIDS meant an early, horrible death. So, whenever they heard about friends testing positive, they felt pangs of fear.
Poteste explained: “There’s always an anxiety that comes with getting tested, even though 99 percent of the time I’ve been safe and been careful, there still is always …” His voice trailed off.
“A slight possibility,” Zemanovic completed the sentence.
“A slight possibility,” Poteste agreed.
Testing Together, now under way in Chicago and Atlanta, takes an unusual approach: It encourages gay male couples to get tested together and hear their results together. After delivering the results, a counselor talks with the couple about what to do next, including agreements they may want to make with each other about sex and health.
Are we agreeing to be monogamous? Is any sexual activity outside the relationship OK? How are we going to protect each other from infection? Couples address these questions and more.
The idea is to bring honesty to sexual relationships, said one of the researchers behind the program, Rob Stephenson of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.
Relationships offer only “mythical protection” from HIV, Stephenson said. Some couples may have avoided talking about each other’s HIV status, thinking, “If he were HIV positive he would have told me,” or “If he wanted to know, he would have asked.”
Poteste and Zemanovic, the newly dating Chicago couple, differed in their past approaches. Zemanovic was in the habit of asking his sex partners about their HIV status; he was “neurotic” about it, he said. Poteste hadn’t been as sexually active as his new boyfriend, but he hadn’t always asked the questions: Have you been tested? What’s your status?
“You have an assumption that if there’s something this person could do to potentially hurt me, they would tell me,” he said.
Zemanovic hoped getting tested together and discussing results with a counselor would build trust between them.
Poteste hoped the counselor could help them start a conversation so they could ask and answer difficult questions.