By Bradd Farnsworth | @BraddFarnsworth

“I don’t even know where the local sexual health clinic is to be fair...” is a phrase I had heard countless times during my university years, and it took just one person to laugh off safer sex, to make me realise that things really do need to change when it comes to students and sex.

I was a typical student. I enjoyed the partying, the social meet ups, the midnight walks to a take away, the new friends and of course – lots and lots of sex. Show me a university student who hasn’t had a one night stand in their time and I would be very surprised.

For many people university is a time of transition – from boy to man. A sexual awakening for a lot of people. Gone are the days of sneaking boys into your house when your parents are out. You can go out and fuck as many people as you want, because nobody is there to stop you.

It was during my second year of university when I was having a conversation with one of my classmates, a guy called Tom, that I realised just how much work still needed to be done in educating young people about safer sex.

I was sat in a cafe, having breakfast with Tom, discussing the Friday night hookups we had both managed to score. We went through all the gory details... who topped? Was his cock massive? How many times did you fuck?, when I asked Tom:

“I hope you used a rubber...” 

“No, haha,” Tom scoffed.

“You should go and get tested, Tom, it’s serious you know...” I replied.

“Why? It’s not like I’m gonna get AIDS, that’s an 80s thing,” he said, while he necked his coffee and started laughing at the now very obvious disapproving look I was flashing him.

I was so shocked at his lack of education about HIV and AIDS that I decided to do something about it, and while in the middle of a packed cafe, I opened up my laptop and showed him graphic images of people suffering the effects of the disease at the height of the crisis.

Now for some of you reading this, you might think I was wrong to do this. You might think I was being harsh, and way too over the top. But I needed Tom to see first hand exactly what this ‘80s thing...’ did to people of our community.

After scrolling through the numerous pictures, he began to feel uncomfortable and demanded I closed my laptop.

“Why?” I said sharply. “I thought this was a 80s disease?”

He sipped his coffee and began to text on his phone, clearly affected by the images I had showed him.

OK, I admit, it was a bit harsh for me to show him these images and yes I felt guilty afterwards that I had clearly upset my friend, but I needed him to understand that just because the 1980s has now gone, we should never forget the huge impact it had on our community.

“Anyway...” he mumbled, “you can get it and be fine now. You can take tablets and shit and be healthy so I don’t know why you’re making a fuss, and I don’t even know where to go and get tested around here. I know back home, but not here at uni so fuck it I’ll wait till half term...”

Yes, Tom was right. HIV is a manageable condition now. There’s medication out there to keep people living a healthy sustainable life, but that doesn’t mean that living with HIV is easy or indeed should be overlooked in favour of unprotected sex.

I showed Tom those graphic images because I felt that his lax attitude towards HIV and AIDS was a recurrent theme in a lot of young gay people who I had met during university, and I needed him to see why it was still an issue in today’s society.

Obviously, I know that these images do not reflect HIV and AIDS today, but when I hear people saying “it was an 80s thing” I feel slightly insulted.

For the huge number of people out there who have spent their time campaigning for safer sex, to the scientists who have dedicated their lives, time and money researching for a cure and manageable treatment plans, and for all those people out there who lost loved ones to the disease, HIV and AIDS will NEVER be just an ‘80s thing’.

Why are some young gay students so relaxed about HIV?  I’m not saying that all students are carefree and relaxed like Tom, but he wasn’t the first guy I met at university with this view, and he probably won’t be the last.

We need to step up and encourage  young university students to take care of themselves and their bodies, let them know where to find local HIV testing clinics whilst at university, provide them with local charity and organisation contacts and educate them so that people like Tom don’t believe that HIV and AIDS was an 80s thing. The fight against HIV is an ongoing battle, and we need young university students on board to help with that fight.


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Symptoms of recent HIV infection

What symptoms are common after being infected with HIV?

Most people experience some symptoms shortly after infection with HIV. This is commonly referred to as seroconversion illness (SCI), or primary HIV infection. It occurs in over 60% of men around two to six weeks after they have been infected.

The main symptoms of SCI are:

  • A sore throat
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • A rash

Other common symptoms include:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle pain
  • Feeling overly tired or sick.

These symptoms are only linked to infection with HIV if you have put yourself at risk (such as fucking without condoms) in the last six weeks. Because these symptoms are common to other illnesses, many people do not realise that they are a sign that they have become infected with HIV.

What do I do if I have these symptoms?

If you have any of these symptoms and have had unsafe sex in the last six weeks, it is worth visiting your doctor or GUM clinic and getting tested for HIV so that you know what your HIV status is. Different HIV tests will be appropriate, depending on how long ago your risk was. Men who have recently been infected have very high levels of viral load which makes it more likely that HIV will be transmitted if they have unprotected sex. Even if you have had recent risky sex, it does not necessarily mean that those flu-like symptoms are seroconversion illness. It could just be the flu.


Useful link

For more information on safer sex, STIs and HIV, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/sex.