Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by poor sexual health and rates of infection for most STIs remains unacceptably high.

With many of the most common STIs not displaying clear symptoms, having a regular sexual health check up is the best way to know your status and to reduce the number of new infections.

It is now recommended that men who regularly have sex with men, particularly those having anal sex, have a regular sexual health check, including an HIV test, every 3 months.

We’ve covered some of the main issues around testing below.

Where to test?

Across Edinburgh and the Lothians you have access to a range of options for HIV and STI testing.

Having a regular sexual health check up is the best way to know your status and to reduce the number of new infections.

Sexual Health Clinics:

Clinics offer a ‘one-stop shop’ for you to get regular sexual health check-ups.

Some of the advantages include:

  • They are staffed by specialist sexual health clinicians so you can get help with symptoms as well as getting a check-up.
  • You can get a diagnosis, often on the spot, and a full range of tests and treatments.
  • They are open Monday to Friday, and often have evening clinics.
  • They will often offer drop-in clinics where you don’t need to make an appointment.
  • You shouldn’t have to wait as long to be referred to a specialist.

Specialist clinics in Edinburgh and the Lothians are operated by NHS Lothian and are based at the Chalmers Sexual Health Centre. Chalmers offers a dedicated gay men’s clinic on Wednesday nights.

For further information, check out the Chalmers website.

M-test community testing

M-test is a community based sexual health testing service operated by the ROAM Outreach team throughout the NHS Lothian area. The service is specifically for gay and bisexual men, and all men who have sex with men.

M-test offers advice and a full range of STI tests for MSM, but can’t provide diagnosis or medication if you have symptoms or need treatment for an STI.

Some of the advantages include:

  • Delivered in non-clinical settings where men may feel more comfortable.
  • Drop-in service with no appointment required.
  • Some scene-based locations.
  • Staff with a great deal of experience and knowledge of gay and bisexual men.

SX is a regular venue for m-test, offering a weekly drop-in service every Tuesday from 2:00-7:30pm at our Mansfield Place office.

You can find out more about the service, including links to its community venues, here.

GP surgery:

Many GP surgeries are able to provide sexual health testing although not all will. Testing will usually be carried out by the practice nurse.

Some of the advantages include:

  • If you’re anxious about being seen visiting a sexual health clinic, you may prefer to visit your GP.
  • Your GP will be local to you, making it easy to access, particularly for those in outer areas of Lothian.

GP practice staff may be trained in pre and post HIV testing counselling, and where they aren’t, your GP can refer you to local support services if your result is positive.

It’s worth remembering that test results through your GP will go on your medical record, However, the law prevents you from being discriminated against because of your HIV status and protects you from unnecessary disclosure to other people.

At home:

You can now test for HIV at home.and there are two ways to do this

Home sampling kits –

Instant HIV testing kits -

  • These require you to take a sample of blood from the tip of your finger and drop it into a solution. Like home pregnancy kits, they give you a clear result in minutes. At present, there are only two kits, produced by Biosure and bioLytical, which have been approved by European quality testers and carries the CE mark. Avoid cheap alternatives sourced from unlicensed suppliers online. Without passing quality standards, there can be no guarantee that these tests are accurate in terms of diagnosis.

While home testing is the most convenient option, it’s worth remembering that it doesn’t come with any support to deal with a positive diagnosis. If you’ve taken a home kit, indicating you are HIV positive, you should get in touch with a sexual health clinic or your GP to confirm the diagnosis and discuss further.

Getting a HIV test

Getting an HIV test is quick, easy and confidential, with some tests offering results as fast as within 20 minutes. A test can give you piece of mind and, if positive, access to treatment and support to help you lead a long and healthy life.

Below we’ve looked at some of the most common questions about HIV testing.

How does an HIV test work?
The vast majority of HIV tests are blood tests. With rapid tests, the blood is mixed in a solution to give instant results. Other tests involve sending a sample for testing in a lab. The blood is tested for HIV antibodies and proteins found in the virus to determine whether you are HIV positive or negative..

How long after being at risk should I test?
It can take time for your body to produce enough of the HIV antibodies and proteins to give an accurate test result.

Current HIV tests are more sensitive than previous ones and, in some cases can, detect HIV from four weeks after infection. A second test, three months after potential exposure to HIV is advised if the first test is negative to confirm the result.

How often should I get tested?
We recommend that all men who are regularly having sex with men should test every 3 months, especially those who have anal sex. This ensures that an HIV diagnosis can be made at an early stage. With early diagnosis and treatment, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives.

If you’ve had sex and think you may have been exposed to HIV, you can access treatment known as PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) which vastly reduces your risk of infection. It’s important that you seek help as quickly as possible and you can find out more from our PEP page.

What should I expect when I’m testing?
The process will vary depending on where you test. We’ll use the
example of a sexual health clinic as this will include most of the things
that you would come across in other locations.

When you arrive at the clinic, you’ll be asked for some personal details if you haven’t registered with them previously. You may then have to fill in a form to help staff identify what tests are appropriate for you.

A trained health professional will have a pre-test discussion with you to find out what concerns you may have and to check if an HIV test is appropriate for you at that point in time. (There may be a variety of reasons for not testing you at that point in time).

Clinic staff will then take a blood sample from you, either from a vein
in your arm or through a ‘finger prick’ test, which will be analysed
for HIV.

How long will it take to get a result?
This will depend on the type of test. Some of the ‘finger prick’ tests will have a result in minutes, like M-test, while others may take a week or so to get results back from a lab.

If you have been at a significant risk of HIV, a sexual health clinic will try and speed your results up. You will be told when your results will be ready and if you will have to come back to the same clinic to receive them.

Testing Negative - what does it mean and what happens next?
Normally this means that you don’t have HIV – but not always.

If you’ve been tested shortly after you’ve been at risk, your body may not have produced enough HIV antibodies to be detected – giving a negative test result.

That’s why it’s recommended that you have a second test after three months to confirm the result.

During this period, you could be infected without knowing it and could potentially transmit the virus to others.

A lot of guys find it difficult to talk about staying negative and continue to take lots of sexual health risks. The team at SX are experienced in talking through the pressures that gay and bisexual men feel in trying to maintain good sexual health. We can talk this through with you, and work with you to maintain safer sex strategies to keep safe.

Testing Positive - what does it mean and what happens next?

A positive test result means that you are infected with HIV - but there’s no need to panic. With effective treatments, and an early diagnosis, people with HIV can expect to live long, healthy lives.

If you have been tested at a sexual health clinic, through community testing or at your GP you will be referred onto an HIV specialist. They will be able to talk to you about treatment options and, if you require it, provide you with further information and advice on the support available. All of this is free.

Gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV and a new diagnosis can be a lot to deal with. Check out the Living with HIV section for more information about the support that SX can provide.

If you are living with HIV, it is still important to think about your sexual health. You may still be at risk of other STIs which can have a greater impact on the health of HIV positive people. There may also be issues about getting infected with another strain of HIV and thus reducing treatment options due to resistance. So it’s important that you use condoms and lube when you fuck.

If you are living with, or affected by HIV, and looking for support, you can get in touch to chat about how we can help.