Andrew: Why HIV testing is important in an open relationship
For Andrew Hodgkinson, getting tested regularly for HIV is a commonsense part of his life - both in terms of his physical and mental well-being.
The 42-year-old Wellingtonian was originally born in the north-west of England, but moved to New Zealand five years ago after falling in love with the Kiwi landscape and doing an outdoor education course with NMIT in Blenheim.
Andrew on the Ending HIV float at the Wellington Pride Parade earlier this year.
The computer programmer is also a very keen bodybuilder and says one of the main reasons why he decided to base himself in the capital is because it gives him easy access to the wide open spaces of the South Island.
He met his partner Steve when they were set up via Andrew’s previous partner, who was going on his OE, and the couple have now been married a year.
“Jase and I always knew that time was limited so about six months in and just before he was about to leave the country he set me up with his friend,” Andrew says. “We met on Oriental Parade and, of course, got on like a house on fire. I’m not sure whether Jase expected that when he introduced us but we were as thick as thieves in no time.”
Having both been in “quite long-term” relationships already, Andrew and Steve decided their best bet at success was having an open relationship.
“All the wounds had healed from the past long-term relationships, but we both realised how these things can go and so we came up with the idea of trying an open relationship – but with rules,” Andrew says.
“In our case that means that when we’re together, we’re together and there’s just the two of us, but if one of us is traveling and meets someone we want to hook up with, we speak to the other person before doing anything.
“When we’re together we don’t use condoms, but when we’re with other people we play safe 100% of the time. But nonetheless, there’s always a risk with HIV and STIs – okay, it can be pretty small – but it still best to be sure about what’s going on. HIV testing just has to be part of that – it’s commonsense.”
Both Andrew and Steve’s busy lives mean that being with other guys outside the relationship has been “really rare” recently, and so getting tested hasn’t been uppermost in Andrew’s mind. But he still says there’s a “six-month” trigger in his head that tells him to update his status “so everybody knows – including yourself, because there’s always a degree of paranoia about these things and you’re never sure”.
It was concern about an unprotected encounter which led to Andrew’s first test for HIV, when he was still living in the UK. He knew the risks of the hookup was likely to be low, but he was still surprised at how anxious he felt waiting for his test results.
“I was amazed how the six-week wait to find out my HIV status got under my skin. I’d imagine many people might not test because if they suspect something might be wrong they’d not want to know.”
“And that’s a reflection of my own experience when I was worried about the what-ifs - that it's way better to know your status, either way. I’ve had friends who’ve been diagnosed positive and it knocks them for six at first, but then they adjust, get on with things and start taking medication to manage the condition.
“And so the message is to go and do it. Testing is free and doesn’t take long, you don’t have to wait long for the results and it will be a weight off your mind no matter what the outcome.”
For someone as health- and body-conscious as Andrew, testing for HIV has become part of his routine to ensure he’s always in peak fitness – especially now he’s past 40.
“There’s an element of regular testing being part of my health regime now,” he says. “Because if you are hooking up with people it isn’t just HIV, there are a number of other STIs out there that are just as big a worry. So you want to get checked for those things, especially as they can be asymptomatic.
“But, yes, when you’re younger you think you’re indestructible, and then you hit the magic 40 and that’s when the health system keeps telling you that you’re more at risk of plenty of things, handing you pamphlets and telling you to have regular checkups at the GP.
“Now I’m far more aware of keeping that schedule and keeping to a full STD screening schedule every 6 to 12 months.”
The journey to end HIV in New Zealand will require all sexually active guys to test for HIV, at least twice a year, or more frequently if they are having condomless sex with partners outside a relationship.
Andrew’s advice for those wavering about getting tested is don’t put it off, just do it – it’s better to know.