As an openly gay man in the spotlight, Ross Mathews, the host of Hello Ross on E!, has made an effort to reignite the conversation surround HIV rates and safe sex practices for gay and bi men. Mathews joined the OraQuick "Life. As we know it" campaign in 2013 to help spread the word about the discreet, at-home testing technology now available in all major drug stores.
Mathews admits that he was unaware of the OraQuick technology until he was approached by the company and asked to join their campaign. Mathews was excited for the OraQuick because of its convienence and discretion.
"That changes everything," Mathews told us last year. "Because you can meet someone and before you have sex you can find out each other’s status." This week the intern turned author turned talk show host talked to us about his first HIV test, why the needle-free at-home test is a game-changer, and what you need to do to honor National HIV Testing Day.
We have National HIV Testing day every year. Is there anything that makes this year significant.
Well I think it's significant because I've been working with OraQuick for the past year about how easy it is to know your status in 2014. I've been doing this for a year, and I wasn't aware of this technology when I began. But now when I'm touring the country, and I've really seen personally, with so many people who have become aware of how easy it is to know your status at home — in 20 minutes. You just swab your mouth, and you have your results right away. I think that's significant, to know that you can do it at home, and you don't have to use the needles or the scary doctor visit, or that gross, frightening, three-day or one-week test period.
Tell me about your first HIV test. Were you nervous?
Oh my god, it was so scary. I was never crazy promiscuous — I guess I just work too hard — but I got my first grown up physical, and I had to wait a week for my doctor to call me. Almost more than the needle, and the doctor's office, the games my mind played were so scary during that wait period. And I think that's why so many people do get tested, because it can be frightening. And that's the biggest excuse people give when I ask them why they haven't been tested.
Do you have any friends who have had the experience of using Oraquick?
Oh definitely. The friends in my life were as unaware of the technology as I was early on, which was part of the reason I wanted to start doing it. Because if I didn't know about it, and my friends didn't know about it, I'm assuming a lot of people out there didn't know about it. Because, not to toot my tooter, but we kind of have our fingers on the pulse, you know what I mean?
Yes, of course.
But, really, like I said, people are always coming up to me and telling me that they've tried it and they didn't know about it, and they're so much more relieved because they know their status. I don't take it lightly. I think knowing our status is so important. We should all be out there, doing our thing, and having fun, but if you're not responsible then one, it's bad karma, and two, it's dangerous.
Now there are multiple easy options for HIV testing now. Do you think that has empowered people to test more often?
Absolutely. I think that the availability to test, and the improvement in tests, has made more people get tested. And I think, especially, in the past year, the [HIV] numbers were on the rise. That's frightening, especially with all of the education out there, and the red alert, high panic, when I was in elementary school. Maybe this generation wasn't raised with that same fear. I can't really speak to that, but I would hope with these advancements, those numbers we see get reversed. That's the goal.
What advice would you give to those people who are struggling with getting tested because they’re afraid of the possible results.
I get that. I can't blame them. If you've been exposed, or you think there's a chance, that's a really scary reality, but the fact is, it's a reality. And the sooner you know, the better your life and your health will be. You'll know your status, and you can figure out where to go from there, and figure out what you need to get healthy. Just so you know [with the at-home test] the 20 minutes it takes to swab your mouth, and you wait, and you get your results, there are counselors in Spanish and English who can direct you to where to go, ready to talk to you on the phone, 24-hours.
Your show Hello Ross just wrapped the second season. What’s been the best part of that?
The best part is laughing every day, and putting up a show that is so funny, and never mean. I don't like putting out negative or bad things out into the world, and this show, I think, just gives so many LOLs and no broken hearts. I'm so proud of it!
(RELATED: Check out our interview with Dr. Rachael Ross of The Doctors.)