We ♥ HIV/STD Testing
Getting tested for STIs and, if you’re HIV negative, HIV, is an important part of sexual health. If you’re sexually active, getting tested every three months is a great way to make sure that you don’t give anything to your partner…other than a smile. Here’s some important information on what kinds of tests to get, when, and how to find them. You can find free and low-cost testing for both STIs and HIV at GetTested.CDC.gov.
Talking to a Provider
There are many free and low-cost HIV testing sites across the United States. To find a place to get tested, visit the CDC’s website here.
You and your healthcare provider will decide which STIs you should get tested for. But know ahead of time what you’re being tested for, since LGBTQ people often need different services than straight and/or cis people. You might need to advocate for yourself and for the care you need if your health care provider isn’t an expert in LGBTQ health.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be open and honest with your healthcare provider. Don’t be afraid to be honest about the number of partners you have or the kinds of sex you have. Your health provider is there to help you, not judge you. If you feel like your provider isn’t supporting you in ways that help you be healthy, it may be time for you to find an LGBTQ-friendly health provider.
- In addition to drawing some of your blood and asking you to pee in a cup, your provider should also swab your butt, and your throat. That’s because people who have anal, vaginal/front hole, and oral sex can get infections in their throat, vagina/front hole, penis, and/or butt.. A simple guideline to follow is: if you use it, test it. (Note: If you have a vagina/front hole, a provider may use a urine test for common STIs. However, there might also be a swab option. Ask for what works best for you.)
- Before you walk out of your provider’s office, make sure you know how you’ll get your results. Will they be online? Will they be mailed to you? Or do you have to call the office in a few days to check? If you don’t get your results after a few days, call your provider’s office to check on them.
- Get tested on a regular basis. Figure out with your provider how often it makes sense for you to get tested. If you’re having regular sex with more than one partner, it might make sense for you to get tested every three months.
- Get vaccinated. If you are having sex with multiple partners then you should be vaccinated against certain infections, in addition to getting other recommended vaccines for adults. Talk to your medical provider about what vaccines you are eligible for.
Below are some questions that your doctor may ask you. While they may seem personal, by answering these questions you provide your doctor with information that may help you lower your risk of STIs, including HIV. In some cases, your doctor may not ask you these questions, so you should be prepared to offer this information on your own. These questions could include:
- Are you currently sexually active?
- In the last three to six months, how many sexual partners have you had?
- Do you have sex with cis women, cis men, trans people, non-binary people or all of the above?
- What types of sex do you have with your partners?
- Have you had condomless anal, oral, or vaginal/front hole sex?
- Have you ever had an STI test where your doctor took a swab of the back of your throat or rectum?
- Have you had a positive test result for HIV or other STIs? If yes, were you treated at that time?
- Do you or your partner engage in recreational drug use like shooting up or using club drugs?
You should also come to your doctor visits with any additional questions that you have about your sexual health and well-being.
Another part of having a conversation with your doctor is being able to talk about any sexual health issues or concerns you may have, including sexual assault or domestic violence. Although your doctor might not have all the resources to help you, they should be able to direct you to a trained professional who can assist with these concerns.
Adapted from It’s Your (Sex) Life, Planned Parenthood, NASTAD
- If you’re giving blow-jobs or eating out, or having anal or front hole/vaginal sex, you need more than a blood test and urine sample for STIs. Ask your doctor to swab your mouth and butt to find out for sure!
- When it comes to sexually-transmitted infections, be on the lookout for common symptoms: if it hurts when you pee, if there’s a sore or a rash on your genitals, or if they are leaking weird fluid, these are all signs that you may have an STI, and you should see your doctor to get checked out.
- However, the most common symptom of STIs is not having symptoms. This is why getting tested every 3 months can keep you healthy and in the know about your sexual health.
- A lot of the time STIs in your throat or butt don’t show any symptoms, but you can still be passing them on to your partners and they can be quietly causing harm to your body. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
- If you give blowjobs or eat out, you can get an STI in your throat. And if you bottom, you might not be able to see a sore inside of your butt or vagina/front hole. Also, the presence of any STI will increase the chances that you can get another STI on top of it, including HIV.
- Here’s good news: Many of these STIs that can live in your throat, vagina/front hole, and butt are easily treatable with a shot or a prescribed medication by a doctor. But first you need to talk to your doctor and make sure they test you for two important STIs (gonorrhea and chlamydia). It’s done by collecting two swabs: one from your throat and one from your butt. If you have a front hole or vagina, urine tests can detect these infections. Swabs may feel awkward – but they’re pretty quick and easy. To be safest, get a test every three months. And if you have symptoms, get tested and treated right away.
- Physical exam – Your health care provider may examine you for any signs of an infection, such as a rash, discharge, sores, or warts.
- Urine sample – You may be asked to pee into a cup at your clinic/doctor’s office. Urine samples can be used to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea as well as pregnancy.
- Oral lesions and discharge from the penis or vagina/front hole – Your provider may use a swab if you have an oral lesion or discharge. Samples from these sites may be used to test for certain STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes, and other bacterial infections, like bacterial vaginosis.
- Blood sample – Your provider may take a blood sample, either with a needle or by pricking the skin to draw drops of blood. These can be used, for example, to test for syphilis, herpes, or HIV.
- If you test positive, remember that the effects and health outcomes of many STIs can be treated and many STIs are curable. There are different treatments for different STIs, and for some, there are several treatment options.
- CDC recommends sexually active people test for these STIs every three to six months:
- Hepatitis B;
- Hepatitis C;
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the rectum if you’ve had receptive anal sex (been a bottom) in the past year;
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the vagina/front hole if you’ve had receptive vaginal/front hole sex (been a bottom) in the past year;
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the penis (urethra) if you’ve had insertive anal or front hole/vaginal sex (been a top) or received oral sex in the past year
- Gonorrhea of the throat if you’ve given oral sex (your mouth on your partner’s penis, vagina/front-hole, or anus) in the past year.
If you’re living with HIV, ask your provider about getting screened for HPV-related anal and cervical cancers as well.
Adapted from ASHA
Kinds of HIV Tests
Whether you’re going for a regular test or you’re worried that you may have gotten exposed to HIV, it’s best to know exactly which test you’re getting and what it can measure.
Not all HIV tests are the same. Your HIV test experience will differ depending on if you choose to test at home or go to a clinic. The actual HIV tests themselves differ based on what they measure–some HIV tests detect pieces of the virus itself, while other tests measure something the body produces (antibodies) in response to an HIV infection. Knowing the type of HIV test you receive will help you better understand how accurate your results are.
Rapid antibody test
This test looks for HIV antibodies (which our body produces in response to an HIV infection). This test does not detect the HIV virus. Because our bodies can take up to 3 months to produce antibodies at levels that can be detected by this type of test, a rapid antibody HIV test may not give an accurate result for people who have been recently infected with HIV. In other words, people who have been recently infected may test negative for HIV even though they are HIV positive.
Rapid antibody/antigen combination test
An antigen/antibody test performed by a laboratory on blood from a vein can usually detect HIV infection 18 to 45 days after an exposure. Antigen/ antibody tests done with blood from a finger prick can take longer to detect HIV (18 to 90 days after an exposure).
This type of test detects the presence of HIV virus material, which means that they are able to detect infections earlier than antibody tests. These tests are more expensive than antibody tests, so are not offered in as many places.
- 10-14 days after infection, there will be enough viral material for a positive result.
Home testing kits
There are currently multiple self-tests which have been approved by the FDA for use in the U.S.
- TakeMeHome is a partnership between BHOC, NASTAD, and Emory University. TakeMeHome enables state and local health departments to offer free in-home sexual health tests to eligible community members.
- “OraQuick” is an antibody test that you take at home. It can test oral fluid (saliva) samples in addition to blood samples. Because it is an antibody test, it may not detect early HIV infection (in other words, people who have been infected in the previous three months). Up to 1 in 12 people may receive a false negative result (which means that even if the test says they’re negative, they’re actually HIV-positive) with this test. This means it’s very important to get confirmed by additional testing in a clinical setting.
- “Home Access HIV-1” is not actually a test, but a kit you can use to take a blood sample. You can then mail the kit with your sample to a lab for processing, and the laboratory will do a follow-up test to confirm a positive result. This test can be done anonymously. The manufacturer also offers confidential counseling and referrals.
There’s a period of time after a person is infected during which they won’t test positive. In other words, there’s a period of time when a person is HIV-positive but won’t know it yet. This is called the HIV “window period.”
The window period can last between 10 days and three months, depending on the person’s body and on the HIV test that’s used. During that time, a person can test HIV-negative even though they’re HIV-positive. Someone in the “window period” of HIV infection can still transmit HIV to another person. In fact, people with very early HIV infection, who may still be in the window period of HIV infection, are actually much more infectious than later on in their infection. That’s one reason frequent testing is so important.
HIV/STD Testing Reminder Services
Some dating apps offer testing reminders, like Grindr. You can set an alert to remind yourself 3 to 6 months after you’ve been tested to go get tested again.
These are web and/or mobile-based notification services that remind users to get tested for one or more STIs at predetermined monthly intervals. Most of these reminders have been created by local programs. Use the reminder that’s right for you even if you don’t live in the city that hosts it. If you want a do-it-yourself reminder, consider setting a calendar alert in your phone or computer every three months! And to find a test site near you, go to gettested.cdc.gov.
Smart Sex Resource (British Columbia)
○ STD testing and HPV/Hepatitis vaccine reminder service
○ 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month notification options available
○ Text message or email notification option available
Gilead: Reminders to get tested and to take PrEP (and get free condoms!)
○ HIV testing reminder service
○ Email notification option