Everything you need to know about getting tested for HIV and STIs
Part of having a healthy sex life involves getting a regular check-up. It’s recommended that guys who sleep with guys get an HIV test and STI screening at least twice a year, and if you’re particularly active, four times a year.
STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are a fact of life. They can be symptomless and condoms don’t always provide protection from them, especially during oral sex where condoms aren’t commonly used. Most STIs are easy to treat with a simple course of antibiotics if they’re caught early.
Many guys assume they’re HIV negative based on their last test, but that result is only ever as accurate as six weeks before because of the HIV window period, so if you’re not getting tested regularly, do you really know your status? The best way to reduce your risk of contracting HIV and/or STIs is to test regularly and ask the same of your partners.
A regular sexual health check up is all part of having a happy a healthy sex life. For guys who sleep with guys, it’s recommended to have a full HIV and STI test two to four times a year- depending on how much fun you’re having.
Depending on where you live, the tests are usually done at a specific sexual health centre or hospital department, but in rural areas they are sometimes done at your GP clinic. You can find services nearby and across Australia using Emen8’s interactive map.
If it’s your first time, or if you’re feeling nervous about the results, take the opportunity to discuss your concerns with your doctor or nurse- there’s very little they haven’t heard before and having an honest discussion about your health and any risks helps them to give you the information you need to make smart choices about your health.
A full check-up involves having a little blood taken from your arm to test for HIV and Syphilis, and other STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea require a small urine sample and a quick swab of your throat, and then your arse, which the doctor will probably ask you to do yourself. Hepatitis C is not always included in a regular check-up, so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or nurse about including it, or whether they think you need to. The process is as simple as that and should give you an opportunity to talk to your doctor or nurse about maintaining a healthy sex life.
You can now get a full STI check and HIV test in less than 30 minutes. Many clinics now offer this type of test which means looking after your own health and that of your partners has never been easier, allowing you to receive your HIV result in just one visit.
Services like aTEST in NSW, Pronto! in Victoria and Project X in Western Australia are peer-run. This means there are clinically trained peers on hand to give advice and answer any questions you might feel uncomfortable talking to a doctor about while performing the rapid test, and a healthcare professional performs the STI tests and takes blood from your arm.
The rapid test requires just a spot of blood, usually taken from your finger, not unlike the pin prick test people with diabetes use to monitor their health. The whole test usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes to produce a result while you wait.
Click here to find your nearest rapid service.
PrEP, HIV positive and testing
HIV positive guys on treatment and guys on PrEP are generally great at remembering to get tested because it can become part of our normal routines. Roughly once every three to six months, blood is taken to monitor how well the treatments works for us, the STI screening can be included when this is done.
Some doctors do not include hepatitis C as part of the regular screening, so it’s important to ask for this if you are worried about your risk of contracting it.
If you are HIV positive and not on treatment, some STIs can cause an increase in your viral load and increase the risk of transmitting the virus. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
An HIV blood test usually has a window period of six weeks, meaning a negative result is true up to six weeks before the date you take the test. This is because most HIV screens look for antibodies in a person’s blood, and for a small number of guys it can take up to three months for these to develop after acquiring the virus.
Testing once every three months, if you’re sexually active, is the best way to stay on top of your health and up-to-date on your HIV status. And it’s also advisable to test after any high risk behavior.
Notifying your partners that you have an STI
If STIs are caught early then they are relatively easy to treat with a course of antibiotics, but the important thing to do is to notify anyone you have had sex with since your last test so they can do the same.
STIs can be easily passed back and forth, if everybody who has come into contact with one doesn’t have the opportunity to visit their doctor. Notifying your partners, and being open to them notifying you if one is detected, helps prevent picking them back up and passing them on.
If you don’t feel comfortable contacting them yourself or through your sexual health clinic, then there is a website where you can do it anonymously. The Drama Downunder has a tool that allows you to text or email anybody who may be at risk of an STI without disclosing the identity of the person sending the message. The site also has a function that can remind you of your next STI testing date in a text message.