It’s National HIV Testing Week this November and athlete Simon Dunn is one of the faces of the campaign which is all about encouraging us to get tested and know our status. Simon says (lol) it’s high time more of us chilled out and opened up about HIV, STIs and our sex lives.
‘Everyone I know has had sex without a condom at least once, so let’s stop being so judgemental,’ says Aussie Simon who’s been living in London since last year and tests for HIV and other STIs every three months or so. ‘You can see all of me on the internet and I’m a pretty open guy. I’ve had chlamydia when I was younger and, because I test regularly, it was found and treated. I’ve also had a course of PEP because I thought I might have been exposed to HIV.
‘I’ve even had my nude leaks and it upset me because it wasn’t on my terms. But what can you do? You only send out the good ones! I think if we talked about sexual health more, it’ll normalise it.’ And Simon’s putting his money where his mouth is and proudly ‘Giving HIV the finger’ as one of the faces of National HIV Testing Week for 2018. He’s urging other gay and bi men to have a quick, free and confidential finger prick test. ‘I had no reservations about doing this,’ says Simon. ‘I want to be associated with HIV as a cause and publicly show my support. That’s why I did the live HIV self test on my Facebook.
‘HIV is still a major issue and I want to be a part of the change. If me putting my name to the cause and getting involved with Terrence Higgins Trust helps then absolutely I’ll do that.’
It’s safe to say Simon has a fair few fans online, including over 130,000 on Instagram. And now, mixed in with the speedo shots and gym workouts, personal trainer Simon is also sharing information about HIV to help challenge the stigma that still surrounds the virus.
‘I like people coming up and saying hi and when people message me to say that I helped them. Whether that’s being a gay role model in sport or as someone who’s sharing information about how easy it is to test for HIV. ‘I’ve learned from working with Terrence Higgins Trust that effective HIV treatment means people living with HIV can’t pass it on – with or without a condom. That’s because treatment works by reducing the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels, which protects the immune system from damage and means HIV can’t be pass on to anyone else.’
And HIV testing is more accessible than ever this November. You can order a free self-sampling test delivered in plain packaging to your door via the It Starts With Me website – startswithme.org.uk. You can also find out whether you’re due a test, which is the best test for you and where to test locally.
‘I don’t want younger people to be as complacent as I was. They should be researching PrEP and thinking about whether it’s right for them, as well as using condoms and testing regularly.
‘I lost my virginity at 18 when my two best friends found a guy off Gaydar. We used condoms, but that was more his decision than mine. Everything I’ve learned about HIV I had to learn as an adult. Someone came to our school from a HIV organisation and the laddish boys made fun of him. But I, as this 16-year-old closeted gay kid, wanted to know – but I didn’t get the chance. Then I got to Sydney at 18 and that’s where I learned. It was like ‘on the job’ learning though, which shouldn’t be what happens. It took a few years to learn about HIV and STIs, but I was obviously having sex straight away. Way too much was left to chance.’
Get tested! It’s recommended that gay and bi men test for HIV at least once a year and more regularly if you’ve had unprotected sex or more than one partner. For all the information you could ever need about HIV testing – and more shots of Simon and the other faces of this year’s National HIV Testing Week – head to Startswithme.org.uk. National HIV Testing Week is part of It Starts With Me, England’s HIV prevention campaign coordinated by Terrence Higgins Trust on behalf of Public Health England.