a group of friends hugs and high fives around a needle with a drop of blood for HIV rapid testing

Getting an HIV Test? Here's What to Expect

“When it comes to sex, YOU are the only person who can decide what’s right for you.” -- Adrienne Santos-Longhurst

When it comes to sexual health, it is important to know your body and cater to your well being. This includes keeping up with preventive services such as regular HIV testing (if you are planning to engage in sexual relations with your partner).

Sometimes people may be hesitant to obtain an HIV test out of fear of unwanted results or simply not knowing what to expect in the testing room. Like any new activity, the more you engage, the easier it becomes. Eventually, testing will simply be a part of your normal health screening routine.

What to expect during an HIV test

There are laboratory tests and rapid tests available. Laboratory tests (blood draw) results can take several days to receive, whereas rapid HIV test (finger prick or oral swab) results are completed within 20 minutes or less. If you are visiting a free clinic, you are most likely going to receive a rapid HIV test.

A risk assessment from an HIV tester

HIV testers are trained to create a safe, confidential, and welcoming environment. Do not be afraid to share your concerns or ask questions for clarity. Please note: in the testing room, your counselor may ask several questions pertaining to your sexual history to complete a risk assessment. Your counselor will also take the time to explain how the test will be performed and what a positive or negative testing result will mean.

What happens if I test positive?

A rapid HIV test can detect HIV up to 90 days after exposure. This period of time between HIV exposure and detection is known as the window period. If you receive a negative HIV test result, your counselor will use your risk assessment to explain whether it is necessary to obtain another HIV test outside of the window period.

If you receive a positive HIV test result, a follow-up test will be provided to confirm the testing result. If your follow-up testing results are confirmed to be positive, then it has been determined that you are HIV-positive. No matter the result, your counselor is there to provide you with valuable resources.

How often should a person get an HIV test?

If you are at a higher risk, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests HIV testing at least once a year. Higher risk individuals may include, but not limited to: an individual having sex with someone who is HIV positive, a man who has had sex with another man (MSM), or someone engaging in drug usage by sharing needles and syringes.

Even if you do not consider yourself to be at high risk, it is important to be aware to ensure you are living a healthy lifestyle.

Where to get an HIV test

There are many clinics that offer free HIV testing — absolutely no insurance or hidden fees! You can find a testing location available to you on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website: Get Tested.

Remember, testing is the only way to know for certain that you have HIV. Knowing your status is not only a preventative measure, but demonstrates an act of sexual responsibility for yourself and your partner. Be proactive and know your status today.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The H-I-V.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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