STD Testing in Lebanon and the Longest Five Minutes of My Life
“Is this your first time getting checked with us?”
The friendly woman smiled warmly as she welcomed me to the Marsa Sexual Health Center. I nodded a bit sheepishly, realizing that after all this time in Beirut; my answer should probably be different.
I visited Marsa not because I had any symptoms or suspicions of specific STDs, but just because I realized I should actually know with confidence that I was clean. For years I had “confirmed” my own negative status by the fact that my long-term sexual partners were already confirmed to be clean along with a very occasional check-in with my doctor.
Following the recent positive HIV diagnosis of a friend and the realization that my sleeping around had increased somewhat during these past months of utter singleness, I decided it was time to confirm my own status. I at least wanted to know for myself, to clear any lingering doubts.
Granted, I was a bit nervous. What if I was wrong? Sure, I’d been practicing safe sex and I didn’t have symptoms, but maybe I had some dormant virus just biding its time before destroying my body. Plus, whenever you’re about to sit down with a stranger and talk intimate – emphasis intimate – details about your sex life, it can be a bit daunting.
Well, let me assure you, my Marsa counselor quickly put me at complete ease with her friendly and professional demeanor. She made it clear that everything I said would remain completely confidential. Marsa doesn’t even keep your name on file – instead assigning each visitor an ID number, meaning your information is not only confidential but also anonymous.
My counselor also assured me that I was free to answer as many or as few of her questions as I liked. “If you ever feel too uncomfortable to answer, just tell me you prefer not to answer,” she said warmly.
“Alright,” I mentally told myself. “Let’s see what’s she’s got!”
She proceeded to grill me about my sexual activity, preferences and partners.
“Do you use lube?”
“Do you use sex toys?”
As the questions continued, I actually felt strangely liberated. It felt freeing, telling this stranger all of my most intimate sexual details.
When the Q and A was over, the real daunting part came: the test; the moment of truth, or more like five minutes of truth.
The actual test is quick and nearly painless, only requiring a small drop of blood from your finger. Some five minutes later the counselor can tell give you the results. In reality, those are the five-f*cking-longest minutes of your entire life.
As I waited for those agonizing 300 or so seconds to pass in the lobby, I pretended to use my phone. But all I kept thinking was, “You have HIV. You have HIV. You have HIV. You have … “
“You can come back in now for your results.”
[F*ck. F*ck. F*ck.]
Sitting back down across from my counselor she looked me in the eye and said …
“Your… results … a … r … e … NEGATIVE!”
I basically started dancing with joy right there in the clinic.
It’s funny how all this time I had been so confident I was clean, but when faced with those five agonizing minutes – questioning my entire existence – all the doubt I kept buried inside came bubbling to the surface.
“You can grab some free condoms on your way out,” my counselor told me as I left the clinic.
“Thanks.” And I did.
NOTE: Marsa is located in Clemenceau-Hamra next to Haigazian University and offers FREE testing for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C as well as testing and counseling for other STDs.