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Fear is uncontrollable

Dec 12, 2000


For the past 4 years I have remained 100% abstinent. I have not engaged in ANY sort of sexual activity because of my intense fear of HIV/AIDS. Just before I went abstinent I got an HIV test back and it was negative -- that was why I chose to abstain from sex - I never wanted to worry about HIV again. However, just a few months ago, I decided to go out on a date with a guy. We really hit it off and a few weeks into the relationship, we decided to try *some* intimate activity. This was an enormous step for me, one I felt I was ready to make.

On the evening in question, we engaged in the following activity. For only a few seconds, I allowed him to touch my penis with his clean, washed hand. That lasted for approximatley 5-10 seconds. I felt uncomfortable with it, so I quickly put my penis away. I could tell he was concerned about my reluctance to allow him to touch me. A few moments later, I decided that I was comfortable with touching each other from the OUTSIDE of our clothing. I allowed him to touch me on top of my blue jeans and I touched him from on top of his sweat pants.

After a few moments (literally, lasting maybe 1-2 minutes) of this light, intimate touching, I thought I felt something wet on his pants. I quickly removed my hand from his sweat pants and walked away from him. Shortly thereafter, I left and have not spoken to him since then.

This fear of intimacy destroyed my relationship and attempt to return to the dating scene. For the past several weeks I have been obsessed with that fluid which came through his pants -- whatever it was. For all I know, it could have been some soda-pop or water he spilled on his pants - the fluid was very light and was very small in quantity. I immediately wiped it off, but ever since then I just can't shake the feeling that I have contracted HIV from him during this incident.

I have phoned the CDC HIV/AIDS hotline several times in the past few weeks asking about this scenario. I have been told that there is no risk for infection from this incident. My hand had no cuts, scrapes, or abrasions on it... and that even if the fluid was "pre-seminal" fluid, that any virus in it would have died on leaving his body, passing through his underwear, pants, and then to the skin of my hand.

Nonetheless, I can't stop obsessing and have elected to return to abstinence again. I would like to be able to engage in intimate activity, but I just can't because of how I react to it.

Do you have any words of encouragement? Each time I call the CDC and explain this incident to them they respond with: "Uh, sir - do you know how you get HIV?" Their tone of voice sounds like they want to say: "sir, you are wasting my time! don't be silly - get on with your life!"

Help me, I don't know what to do! Do you think I could have contracted HIV from this incident?


Petrified in Maine

Response from Mr. Kull

Dear Petrified-

Since it is extremely unlikely that you got infected with HIV through the activity you describe (no cases of HIV transmission through touching have been reported to the CDC), we should probably address your concerns from another angle.

It sounds like you have difficulty focusing on the bigger picture and that you have been consumed by the thoughts of being or becoming HIV infected. You talk about "uncontrollable fear" and "obsessing," feelings of anxiety which don't really jive with the level of risk that you have. Everybody experiences anxiety. The severity and frequency of bouts of anxiety can vary greatly from person to person. When your anxiety begins to interfere with your life, work, relationships, and general day-to-day functioning, you should talk to someone about the possibility of having an anxiety disorder. This may or may not be the case with you, but is worth thinking about.

People who have chronic anxiety and panic attacks often benefit from psychotherapy, medications and cognitive-behavioral treatment (a way of modifying certain thoughts and behaviors). Medication and psychotherapy in combination seem to work best for anxiety disorders. A mental health professional could best help you understand your anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S. Many people feel ashamed about seeking treatment. Whether or not this is the case with you, it is important that you understand you are not to blame for your condition, you are not alone in your experience, and there is help for you.

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health's page on Anxiety Disorders to learn more about anxiety, anxiety disorders, and how to seek out further help if you think you would benefit from it. Try not to go through this alone


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