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A Friend of Mine Has An HIV Problem
Mar 15, 1999

I have a friend who just over 3 months ago had * protected * sex with a pro inside an oriental massage parlor. This was his only “risky” exposure. Within a week after the experience all hid wanted to talk about was HIV and AIDs – to the point where I didn't want to be around him. But he was a close friend and I stuck through it – telling him he probably wasn't infected since he wore a condom. He had some weird symptoms, but I suggested that they might be related to stress and his obsession with AIDS.

Anyway, the 3 months test came back negative. I thought this would allay his fears. It didn't. He is still convinced he has HIV and he is making all kinds of logically contorted arguments. He thinks the condom she provided was defective because he didn't see her take it out of the package; he thinks maybe it wasn't a latex condom; he thinks maybe she poked holes in it to infect him. You get the idea.

All he wants to do is cruise HIV websites and call hotlines comparing symptoms – many which don't seem that HIV related to me.

He is a close friend, but I'm getting tired of talking about AIDs with him! During our last conversation this evening I got a little upset and told him that if you calculate the chances that she was infected; along with the chances of getting infected from one encounter; then the fact that it was a protected encounter; and then calculate the less than 10% chance that he'd take longer then 12 weeks to show positive means his chances of being infected are damn near zero. I then told him to call a therapist that I think he doesn't need any HIV drugs but something to help him with him mental problem. He then hung-up and won't answer my calls.

Sorry for all of the background. But my question is this: how do I explain to him that it may be a mental problem and get him to see a therapist. I tried telling him to get a therapist to help him deal with his possible infection, and I hope that the therapist would figure out soon enough he was acting phobic. It didn't work. He says he needs meds not a shrink. I truly believe this is what he needs, but I don't know how to help him get there. What should I do?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

There is nothing you can do. You have already made the correct suggestion that your friend see a therapist. For whatever reason he needs to be obsessed about having contracted HIV and won't allow even the negative HIV test result to allay his fears. He is being absolutely phobic as you say. My experience is that people who are obsessed with HIV to the extent that your friend is, generally have a high level of sexual guilt that is fueling their unconscious need to be punished for their sexual misconduct. I URGE you NOT to share this intrepation with him. All you can do is if he cntacts you is to tell him that you want to be his friend, but do not want to hear any more about his HIV related concerns. I doubt that he will find this good enough for him. Michael Shernoff, MSW



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