One Night Stand Risk Fears: Should I Test?

Dear Christine,

Two years ago, I had an unprotected one-night stand with a man from Ghana I never saw again. Two months after this incident, I took an HIV test and got negative results.

Now I have a boyfriend and am about to have sex for the first time since the guy from Ghana. I have serious fears and regrets because AIDS supporters say an HIV test is not 100% certain until three or six months after a possible infection. Because of this, I cannot help feeling like a potential killer even though I find the arguments at your web site very convincing.

Should I get myself tested again? If not, how can I get rid of all the conventional AIDS rhetoric instilled during my youth?

I am very depressed at the moment. What are the chances I might have ruined my life that one night?


Ellen P

Dear Ellen,

Officially speaking, the probability becoming HIV positive as a result of a one time heterosexual encounter with someone outside an official AIDS risk group is less than that of being struck by lightening. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, AIDS risk groups are male homosexuals, injection drug users and their partners, hemophiliacs, and transfusion recipients. The CDC does not place people of African origin in an AIDS risk group.

From what you’ve written, it seems your fears and anxiety are so great that information about odds and probabilities will provide little comfort. I get the impression you need to know more in order to move on with your life and enter a new relationship.

Unfortunately, settling the matter through testing is not truly possible since HIV tests don’t detect actual HIV or look for any unique or specific marker for HIV. These facts conflict with ideas of personal and social responsibility as we’ve been taught to rely on the test to provide real and definitive answers to the common questions you ask: "Am I OK? Is it OK for me to have sex with someone?"

But even when people know about the inability of HIV tests to identify HIV infection, the test remains the only socially accepted form of “proof of being OK." This means that those who know the facts may still feel or face an obligation to participate in the ritual of testing while acknowledging that the tests cannot provide an accurate or reliable diagnosis.

Although I cannot recommend HIV testing as a way to detect actual HIV infection, the test may provide the validation you need to get over your depression, guilt and fears. Also, negative test results allow some people to feel they’re not withholding anything from a partner.

Although no honest and informed doctor could say what the HIV tests may actually indicate, from what you tell me and what I know, I think the odds for another negative result are overwhelmingly in your favor.

By the way, the mainstream notion that waiting three to six month makes a test “100% accurate” is misguided as the true accuracy level of HIV antibody or viral load tests have never been established by the direct finding of HIV in any person who tests positive.

Take care,


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