5 reasons why we should be testing for HIV and STIs By Dan Singh My first sexual health test was when I was around 25 – way back in the 90s. I was anxious about going to a sexual health clinic in case I bumped into anyone else who might also be Punjabi. By the time I arrived I even used a false name which was ‘Steve Smith’. When this alias was called out, I sat there thinking why this ‘Steve Smith’ is not standing up to go in. Well, it dawned on me that they were calling me. Yes me – Steve Smith! This made me chuckle and reduced my anxiety further. The sexual health specialists were very helpful and friendly. They explained that you don't have to give your real name if you don't want to; and if you do, it will be kept confidential. They explained that my GP won't be told about my visit without my permission and the sexual health service is a separate database and information will not appear on my NHS records. My knowledge and confidence around sexual health testing increased in just that one visit. I also started to accept that everyone else is here for the same thing, to get tested and look after their health. That’s why I have put together a list of five reasons why I think we should all test for HIV and STIs. REASON 1: It protects you I feel it is better to know your STI/HIV status. Knowing your STI/HIV test means that you’re doing your best at taking responsibility for your own health. If STIs and HIV are left untreated, they can have serious long-term consequences, so early detection is crucial. Remember all STIs are curable and treatable and early treatment for HIV ensures you live a full healthy life. Taking a test for your sexual health protects you (and others) because it is the only way to be sure if there is anything wrong or to make sure any worries you may have can be discussed confidentially and you can be listened to. Support, treatment, and advice can be given. Remember not all people will present with symptoms in the same way for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, mpox and many more. STIs and HIV don’t discriminate based on our colour or where our heritage is from. We are all in this together. Stay informed and have the best sex with the least harm. REASON 2: It’s easy, convenient and quick Did you know you can test at home now? Free home testing is another way for you to test for STIs and HIV from the comfort of your own home. Most are self-sampling STI Kits, which means you return your samples and get your results within a week. Others, such as free at home HIV tests, offer results after 60 seconds. Technically this will give you a 100% accurate result from 12 weeks ago (95% from six weeks ago). So, when HIV enters your body, there’s a certain amount of time that must pass before a test can detect it. This is called the HIV window period. This is the same for syphilis. chlamydia and gonorrhoea, which is up to two weeks. It is recommended that all gay and bisexual men who have sex with men test for STIs and HIV at least once a year. If you have unprotected sex with new partners then it makes sense to test more frequently than this i.e. every three months. Sexual health testing has become even easier through home testing or booking online appointments at your local sexual health clinic. You will have the option of a self oral swab, rectal swab, pee in a plastic tube, a blood sample from your finger and/or a finger prick test for HIV. It is quick, easy to do and painless. Even if English is not your first language, often interpretive support can be given in another South Asian and other languages. You can also ask the sexual health specialist any questions you may have and get access to free condoms and lube and info around PrEP, hep B and mpox vaccinations. RASON 3: It’s anonymous As long as you remember the first and last name you give, your date of birth and phone number you have given, then testing is anonymous. Even if you tested positive for any STIs, sexual health specialists are not going to phone anyone you’ve had sex with. However, if you do test positive, you should inform your partner(s) so they can also get tested. Clinics and some online services can do this anonymously for you. You don’t even have to go to a clinic to test as you can do a self-test at home. They are simple to use, painless, confidential and they can eliminate the inconvenience of going to a clinic. You can order your own HIV self-testing kit online at www.test.hiv. Your data is secure, private, and confidential. Information and links and your results are sent to the mobile number you provide. If it is not possible to give a mobile number please speak to a member of staff for alternate ways of receiving your results. You can also order your home testing kit to a friend’s house (do ask the friend first). This may give you more privacy if you are unable to order the kit at home if you live with your family or partner(s). You will also find some gay saunas, bars and clubs will have regular pop-up clinics offering a whole range of sexual health testing. These are set in a discreet and private space. A chance to test, ask questions and pick up free condoms and lube. 4: It helps other people By testing for STIs and HIV you are not only protecting your own sexual health and wellbeing but that of others too. Sometimes, due to culture, faith, religion and general lack of sex education in the UK, we may feel guilty for not testing but looking after your sexual health will benefit you and your sexual partners. Remember, not everyone will have symptoms show up in the same way, which is why it is better to test regularly. Some men may be in existing heterosexual relationship(s) but have same sex relationships too; so sexual health testing is important to protect one another. If you do test positive for an STI or for HIV, you can talk to a specialist about the treatment and the next steps, including informing any partners. If you're nervous about sharing your test result, you can ask your doctor or the local health department to notify your partner(s) – this is often called a partner notification service. 5: It gives you peace of mind Regular testing will help your mental wellbeing and give you peace of mind. This will reduce anxiety because you will know the status of your sexual health and you’ll have access to up-to-date information, which will benefit your mental health and wellbeing. It should also allow you to be more sex positive and enjoy the sex you have without fear or stigma. The more you test the easier and more routine it feels. See it like a regular check-up like you might do for opticians or dentist. The first time can be worrying but to reduce this worry read through information about sexual health testing before going. Hope this article helps too.