Many of us have really busy lives and even thinking about adding something else in can be too much. ‘How do I have time to go hang around a clinic waiting for an HIV test that I don’t think I need?’, ‘what do I even need a test for?’ or ‘I don’t want to go to the sexual health clinic, what if someone I know sees me?’
Jason said: ‘Growing up in Hong Kong, talking about sex was a taboo. Safer sex, regular testing, and how to navigate sexual relationships were not topics people brought up. It wasn’t until I moved to London that I realised that testing was nothing to be embarrassed about.
‘Many people in the LGBTQIA+ community test regularly and understand that taking control of their sexual health is empowering. HIV is now a very open conversation for me, my friends, and my community. Before I hook up with anyone, I will always ask them when they last got tested and if they’re on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) – a pill for HIV negative people that protects you against HIV – and most people ask me too.
‘The thing is, it’s pretty easy to get tested for HIV. Most sexual health clinics have drop in sessions where you can just turn up without an appointment and get seen. If you want to call first and make an appointment, at least you know what time you’ll be seen. Taking the test at the clinic is pretty fast, the person doing the test with you will ask a few questions and then do a fingerprick blood test, and you’ll get your results back in around 15 mins max. It’s all confidential, it doesn’t go on your medical record and you don’t even have to use your real name if you don’t want to.’
If you really don’t want to go to the clinic like Jason, you can get tested at your GP, although the test results will go onto your medical record, and of course you can’t turn up to the doctors surgery and call yourself anything other than your real name. Of course, the other thing is getting an appointment at your GP in the first place...
Lots of people now prefer to do what are known as ‘at home’ tests. Obviously you can do them in any private space, it doesn’t have to be at your home, but it’s you doing the testing. There are many places you can get your free ‘at home’ test kits from - you can order one online. You can also buy them at places such as Lloyds Pharmacy and Tesco’s pharmacies.
There are two types of ‘at home’ test kits, one known as the ‘self sample’ where you collect a small sample of blood and send it off to a lab in the envelope provided and call in a week or two for your results. The advantage of these tests is that you will be talking with professionals about your results and so they can help and support you if you need that.
The other type of ‘at home’ test is known as the ‘self test kit’ where you take a sample of blood, and using some testing fluid you’re able to read the result for yourself in about 15 minutes. The advantage of this type of test is that you get to see your result yourself and that it’s really quick.
If you get a ‘positive’ result, you will need an additional test to confirm this, whichever method (clinic, GP or at home) that you use. This is because occasionally these tests will show a ‘false positive’ result and the additional test will confirm things. To be clear, although they occasionally show a ‘false positive’ result, they never show a negative result that is wrong. You may want to take another test a month or two later just to be sure, whether that is at home or at a clinic.
Everyone should test at least once in their lives. It’s sensible to test at the start of any new relationship you have.
If you have multiple partners in a year, whoever you sleep with, it’s recommended to test yearly, or better still every three months if you are a man having sex with other men.
Testing is free, confidential and easy, whether you use a sexual health clinic, a GP or prefer the convenience of an ‘at home’ test kit.