Gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by poor sexual health and high rates of infection for most STIs.

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

It is 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.

It is important to remember that each test has a different ‘window period’. This means that if you are tested within a certain time period, you can’t be sure of the accuracy of the result. A clinician will always advise you about your risk, and the potential need for retesting if you are within a window period. To be sure of getting tested at the correct time after exposure, here is how long to wait before getting an STI checkup.

Chlamydia: 10 days after exposure

Gonorrhoea: 10 days after exposure

Syphilis: 6 weeks after exposure and retest after 3 months

Hepatitis B: 4/6 weeks after exposure

Hepatitis C: 3 weeks after exposure

HIV Anti Body Test (Rapid Test): 3 months after exposure

HIV Blood Test (venipuncture test): 4 weeks after exposure

Herpes: 6-12 weeks after exposure

HPV (Human Papillomavirus):  4 months after exposure

However, if you think you have developed any symptoms from an STI infection you should contact or visit your sexual health clinic as soon as possible. You should also abstain from sexual contact until you have discussed your symptoms with a sexual health consultant.

There are many different ways of getting tested. We’ve covered some of the main options below.

 

Rapid HIV testing

A rapid HIV test is the best way to make an HIV test part of your sexual health routine. The test looks for HIV antibodies (your body’s reaction to the HIV virus) in your blood. The test can detect HIV antibodies from 3 months after initial exposure to HIV. If you are getting a rapid HIV test, you should always discuss how long the window period is and determine if this test is right for you.

For the rapid HIV test, you only require a small amount of blood, which is taken from a simple finger prick. This test will give you results in a matter of minutes and reduce the anxiety that can be caused by waiting for results.

Results from these tests are as accurate as a standard HIV test; however, the test will determine if you are HIV ‘negative’ or HIV ‘reactive’. Reactive means you will need to go for further tests to determine if you are actually positive or not. In the event of a reactive result, the tester will organise for you to have further tests to confirm the result.

If you are interested in learning more about these tests, watch this short video.

You must remember the window period when it comes to deciding which test is right for you.

 

Dry Blood Spot Testing (DBS testing)

Dry Blood Spot Testing (DBS testing) tests for Blood-Borne Viruses (BBVs) such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. This test requires taking blood from a simple finger prick. The tester will collect blood drops from your finger on a special piece of card, which will be sent to a lab to determine the results.

The test is able to detect blood-borne viruses 3 months after exposure. Therefore, if there is a specific event that you are concerned about and it has happened within the last 3 months, the test may not be able to detect an infection.

Results for this test usually come back from the lab within 10 working days. Once the results are received, you will be asked to come back to see the tester. You will be contacted regardless of whether your results are negative or positive. This call back is a chance for the tester to inform you of the results and enable you, regardless of BBV status, to plan your next steps around prevention or treatment.

You must remember the window period when it comes to deciding what test is right for you.

Testing by a Clinician

Being tested in a clinic allows you to get tested for all STI’s and HIV in one go, provided that everything is outside the correct window periods. The clinician will be able to take you through all the testing procedures, such as swabs, urine tests and blood tests. This is also a good opportunity to get more information about sexual health, mental health and emotional wellbeing.

A standard test will include throat and anal swabs, a urine sample and a blood sample taken from your arm. If you are interested in seeing how the swabs are taken, click on the following links:

Anal swab

Throat swab

All of the samples will be sent to the lab and you should receive your results between 10 and 14 working days after your appointment.  The way you receive your results varies. Usually, you will be asked to phone a confidential recorded phone line that gives you your results. However, it is not uncommon to receive a phone call, or a text message, asking you to come back to the clinic or ring the clinic for results. 

Community Based Testing

Across Scotland, you have access to a range of options for HIV and STI testing. If you are looking for a test, we recommend that you use our service finder to locate your nearest community-based testing.

Having a regular sexual health checkup is the best way to know your status and to reduce the number of new infections you can get or pass onto others.

Community-based testing clinics offer access to a variety of services based in local venues. Some of the advantages include:

  • Testing is delivered in non-clinical settings where you may feel more comfortable.
  • A drop-in service is usually offered where no appointment is required.
  • Some clinics are held at venues on the gay scene.
  • Staff have experience and knowledge of working with gay and bisexual men.
GP

Across Scotland, you have access to a range of options for HIV and STI testing. If you are looking for a test, we recommend that you use NHS Inform Service Directory to locate your nearest GP practice.

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 rural or low populated areas.

GP practice staff may be trained in pre and post HIV test counselling. If the practice is not, 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.

Sexual Health Clinics:

Across Scotland, you have access to a range of options for HIV and STI testing. If you are looking for a test, we recommend that you use our service finder to locate your nearest sexual health clinic.

Having a regular sexual health checkup is the best way to know your status and to reduce the number of new infections you can get, or pass on to others.

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.

If you are interested in getting tested – click here to find out the different options available or check here for our service directory to find your closest testing area. 

Home Testing

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

Home sampling kits:

  • These kits give instructions on how to collect blood or saliva samples that you post to the manufacturer’s lab. You then contact them to get the results. In Scotland, the service is provided by the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Instant HIV testing kits:

  • These kits 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, one produced by Biosure and the other by bioLytical, These kits have been approved by European quality testers and they carry the CE mark. Avoid cheap alternatives sourced from unlicensed suppliers online because without passing quality standards, there can be no guarantee that the 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 the results further.

If you are interested in learning more about these tests, watch this short video. 

SX Testing Services

SX is involved in two community-based services: M-Test and CheckPoint

M-Test:

M-Test is delivered by the ROAM Outreach team. The service offers sexual health testing specifically for gay, bisexual and all men who have sex with men throughout the NHS Lothian area.

SX is one of five community venues for the M-Test service, which offers a weekly drop-in service every Tuesday from 2:00pm-4:30pm and 5:00pm-7:30pm at our Mansfield Place office. You can find out more here

CheckPoint:

CheckPoint is delivered by SX as part of Waverley Care's testing services. CheckPoint offers HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C testing and is available to anyone looking for a test, regardless of gender identity. 

The project offers appointments from Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, plus a weekly drop-in clinic on Thursdays from 5pm-7pm. You can find out more here.

CheckPoint operates in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. Please check out our service directory to see the closest venue to you.  

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 peace of mind and, if positive, access to treatment and support to help you lead a long and healthy life.

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

How do HIV tests 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 getting tested at a sexual health clinic as this will include many of the things you will 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, which will be explained to you by the health professional.

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 whether 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 men find it difficult to talk about staying negative and continue to take lots of sexual health risks. Our 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 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, bisexual and all 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 we at 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 around 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.