Am I Too Worried About Getting HIV?

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Many people are understandably concerned about contracting HIV -- but that worry can become overwhelming. While some worry after specific sexual acts or due to the risks from partners with known or unknown HIV status, others find themselves consumed by fears that may be stronger than the facts of HIV transmission. They ask: Should I worry after protected sex with a sex worker? It's been a few weeks since I had sex and I have a lot of symptoms; are they due to HIV or anxiety? I tested negative but does that mean I really don't have HIV?

Answers from TheBody.com's team of experts to these and other questions on the Mental Health and HIV forum and the Safe Sex and HIV Prevention forum should help readers separate healthy caution from unnecessary worry. If you have additional questions, please just ask -- we're here for you.


Worried About Sex With an Escort

Question: I had protected sex (oral and vaginal) with an escort a month ago and have been worried ever since. Do you think I should take an HIV test?

Answer: Yes! You had protected sex! This puts your risk of HIV transmission to very small. ... But because your partner has multiple partners it is important to be screened not just for HIV, but for all of the other sexually transmitted infections. Testing guidelines for HIV are: to be tested initially at three weeks and then again at 90 days; if this test is negative, then so are you.

To read Shannon Southall's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Safe Sex and HIV Prevention.

To read another expert's answer about HIV risk from sex workers, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Safe Sex and HIV Prevention.


Can't Stop Worrying About a One-Night Stand

Question: So I had a one-night stand -- my first one ever. I don't usually sleep around. I am a dude and it was vaginal sex. It started with a condom, but it slipped off because I couldn't get fully erect. ... It's been four days now and I can't stop worrying about it. Any advice?

Answer: I'm sorry to hear about your situation and anxiety it has produced. That period of uncertainty and waiting is one of the most difficult times because, as in your case, it gives our minds a wide-open space to imagine the "what-ifs." Don't let yourself be hijacked. Follow your plan for testing.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


The Condom Broke and I'm Scared

Question: Hopefully you can help me with my fear. Eight days ago I had protected anal sex with another gay male of unknown HIV status. I was the top. After completion ... I pulled out and noticed the condom I was wearing had broken. Should I be worried?

Answer: The estimated per-act risk for acquisition of HIV from unprotected (or broken condom) insertive anal sex with a partner who is confirmed to be positive is 6.5 per 10,000 exposures. ... Should you be worried? No, not excessively. But you should get a rapid HIV test at the three-month mark.

To read Dr. Frascino's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Safe Sex and HIV Prevention.


I Got Cut at the Barbershop and I Can't Stop Thinking About HIV

Question: While she was shaving my sideburns, the hairdresser accidentally nicked the lobe of my ear with an extremely sharp razor blade. It started bleeding rather profusely but stopped after some first aid. My question is, was I at risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis or similar viruses? What should I do?

Answer: I understand that it's hard to resist worrying about HIV transmission in your case, but it is not unusual for someone to get nicks, cuts or abrasions while getting a haircut. There is still no evidence of HIV transmission occurring in hair salons, barbershops, etc. Even if she had reused the blade, the odds of transmission are incredibly small.

To read Ryan Kull's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Safe Sex and HIV Prevention.


I'm Scared I Put My Boyfriend at Risk

Question: I am a gay male. I did a stupid thing and cheated on my boyfriend a couple of times. ... My problem is that my boyfriend got an indeterminate HIV test. I tested negative in a finger-prick test at the clinic, but I'm still worried. PS I have also been having troubled sleep and minor night sweats, but am under the impression this may be anxiety.

Answer: For now you are doing what you can -- getting regularly tested until six months have passed at which point you can safely conclude you and your boyfriend have not contracted HIV. Given your negative results thus far, I feel it's very likely your sleep disruption and night sweats are due to worry.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


I'm So Worried, I'm Dizzy

Question: After my most recent encounter, I became worried and have symptoms such as a sore throat and discomfort in my back and neck. ... Today, I'm starting to notice that I feel a bit dizzy. ... I feel like I'm losing myself slowly, and my worrying is getting the best of me.

Answer: Anxiety is a powerful reaction that, while meant to protect us, when unchecked for a prolonged period of time can create numerous physical symptoms itself. I would suggest creating a plan by which you take control of the situation. That would include testing for STIs [including HIV] ... and developing some tools to deal with anxiety.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


Never Had Sex, but Can't Stop Worrying About HIV

Question: In the last one year I've been behaving like a zany person, washing hands several times in a day. All the time I think about HIV. After any activity I suppose HIV has entered my body. What can I do? Also, I never made physical relation with a girl and never had sex with anyone.

Answer: Your risk for HIV is extremely low, so fears about contracting the virus seem extremely unrealistic. Obsessive compulsive behaviors, such as washing your hands or obsessive worry about unrealistic fears, can be a serious disruptive condition. Please speak with your health care provider who can do a more thorough assessment and make some recommendations to get you relief.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.

To read another response from Dr. Fawcett to a reader suffering from OCD, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


First Sexual Experience Leads to Irrational Fear

Question: I lost my virginity recently to a much older girl. ... This is the only sexual encounter I have ever had. I'm not even sure she had HIV. Seems like I'm thinking of the worst possible scenario and there's constantly a lingering voice in the back of my head saying "what if"; it's causing me to worry. Am I being irrational?

Answer: In short, yes, it sounds irrational. Since you are now sexually active (or at least probably want to be!) you need to keep using condoms and have an HIV testing plan for yourself. In the meantime, you might want to think about other reasons behind your worrying. Perhaps guilt or anxiety? A counselor or trusted adult might help you talk through any concerns you uncover.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


The Guys I've Slept With Are Low Risk but I'm Too Scared to Get Tested

Question: Since [my last test] I have had three boyfriends and been with four guys that are relatively low risk, I would think. They are in their early 20s, non-IV drug users and heterosexual. ... I want to get tested for HIV [but] I'm very scared and it really gives me great anxiety to the point that my neck and back are sore and I have a lump in my throat.

Answer: It's not good practice to evaluate HIV status based on demographics or self-report. The majority of new infections are caused by people who don't know they are positive. ... You need to follow through with an HIV test to confirm you are negative. It's the only definitive way to provide relief from the anxiety.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


It's Been 2 Years, but I'm Still Worried

Question: Two years ago my girlfriend passed away with HIV. We had unprotected sex all along till we found out she was positive. ... I have been testing but still negative and stressed.

Answer: I am sorry to hear about your girlfriend. The outside window for post-exposure testing is six months (three months is considered standard in the U.S.), so there doesn't appear to be an ongoing risk that you will seroconvert.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.


My Partner Tested Positive but I didn't. Am I Really Negative?

Question: My partner and I just did our HIV tests. He is positive and I am negative. We have been together for seven years and have not been using protection. Do I need to worry that I have HIV and it will only show after some time or am I somehow lucky that I didn't contract it?

Answer: It's impossible to say when your partner seroconverted, which would affect how long you would have been at risk. In the U.S. it is the standard to test up to six months after exposure with someone who is HIV positive. At that point, a negative test is considered conclusive.

To read Dr. Fawcett's full answer, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forum on Mental Health and HIV.

To read other experts' answers about HIV risk or to post your own questions, head over to our "Ask the Experts" forums.