Blood vile with the words 'HIV-test' written on the label

HIV: what to expect when getting tested

We talk a lot HIV but don’t know what to expect when getting tested. To help you with the experience, we’ll walk you through what happens in a testing room.

HIV and STI testing should be a regular part of the life of any person who has sex. It's important because, as a sexually active person, you don't only want to protect yourself from getting STIs but also stay aware of your status and, ideally, your partner's status.

In many instances, you may not know you’ve been infected because many people believe penetrative sex is the only way to catch an STI. But that's not true.

Even without penetrative sex, HIV and STIs can be passed on through bodily fluids and some STIs through skin-to-skin contact.

So why should you get tested? Because knowing is better than guessing. Because early detection of STIs will save you from long-term problems. And because you care about yourself and your sexual partner(s).

The truth is, many of us don't know how to go about getting tested and what to expect. The first is easy enough to solve as every hospital carries out the tests and Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres (VCT) can be found all over the country.

The second isn’t as scary as it seems. Here’s what to expect:

A short talk

The health worker or counsellor will want to get to know you a little bit first. They will ask a few questions about your sex life. This could be:

  • What made you want to get tested?
  • Have you been tested before?
  • How many sexual partners do you have?
  • What kinds of sex have you had lately?

Nothing difficult or alarming, so answer honestly. All the information you share will remain private. They will also take you through the testing methods and what happens next.

Sample taking

Now you will be requested to give a sample based on what you are being tested for. You will be asked to give blood for Hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV or urine for gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

In most cases, the health worker will do a rapid test where they will take a drop of your blood by pricking your finger. The drop is then placed in a test kit where a chemical agent is added that gives a result within minutes. This test is mainly for HIV.

More detailed tests are done for other STIs depending on your symptoms or requests. For men, they may take a cotton swab or bud and collect fluids from your throat, anus, or urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder through your penis).
For women, they may also use a cotton swab to collect samples from the vagina and/or cervix through a pelvic exam.

No need to worry though, they will only carry out the tests you are comfortable with and, thankfully, most STIs can be detected through urine and blood samples.

The window period

Before or during your post-test counselling, you will be told about the window period. This is the time between potential exposure to HIV infection and the point when the test will give an accurate result. During this time, it is possible to be HIV-positive and highly infectious but still test negative for HIV.

To be sure, get yourself re-tested after six weeks to confirm your first result.

Related: All you need to know about self-testing

Results and post-test counselling

Finally, the health worker will give you your results. If you had the rapid test you will receive your results on the same day, shortly after your blood was taken. But if you had the more detailed tests, you will receive them several days later.

The health worker or counsellor will deliver the results clearly and in simple terms. They will then confirm if you have understood and help you through the resulting emotions.

If you tested negative for HIV, they may take you through what you can do to stay safe in the future or discuss any concerns you may have. Should you test positive for HIV, the health worker will help you understand what this means and what happens next.

Finding out early that you are HIV-positive means that you have a better chance of living a long and healthy life.

All in all, knowing your HIV status will allow you to plan for the future, for your sexual activity, for your health and well-being, including that of your family or partner.

Do you have more questions about HIV and STD testing? Our discussion board moderators are here to help!

Did you learn something new?


Hey Sandra, there are different Sexually Transmitted Infections or Diseases and HIV is one of them. So, yes one can have a STD and not have HIV. In which case, the STD should be treated with the right medication. HIV on the other hand doesn't have a cure and the medicines only help to prevent HIV form destroying the immune system. This article provides more information on HIV;-

I met a guy who was hiv +but I didn't know and we had un protected sex. Later on after I discovered his status I went for a check up and it turned out negative. Ihav been been doing it for almost an year now and am negative,is it possible?

Hi Nancy, yes it is possible. One reason could be he was not HIV positive when you had sex but also getting infected with HIV also happens by chance meaning you can have sex with a person who is HIV positive and not get infected. The last results you received are a reflection of your true status. Check out this article on HIV;-

Hello ,I had unprotected sex with my gay partner,The following day I realised there were medicine in his bags and got curious, I went to the hospital and was given pep of which resembled to one of the bottle he had with medicine. Could I be guessing the wrong thing.??
Love Matters
Sun, 04/12/2020 - 02:10 pm

Hello Simon, thank you for reaching out to us and opening up about your ordeal. Rather than guess, why don't you approach your partner and have an open and honest discussion about his HIV status before making any hasty assumptions.

Good day team. Pls I need your advice. I have a girlfriend with HIV and we have unprotected sex 4x now before I known she positive. I have gone for a test and am negative but am scarf. Though she is on AVR since 2009 and her viral load is 10cp/ml

Hi Moses, It's possible to have sex with someone positive and not get HIV depending on several factors, 1. If the positive person is on ARVs and has a low viral load, 2. The negative person has no STIs, or ulcerations on their genitals, 3. The negative person has a good immunity etc. We strongly recommend you not to have unprotected sex or the get on PrEP.

This article has some information that could be of help to you.

Last 10weeks I had a deep kiss with a lady who I later knew was hiv+. What makes me suspicious is that she had chance to reach my tongue and bitten it actually made a bruise on it same to my lower lip where it produce a little blood just a little. Right now am feeling some early signs of hiv I tested my blood 8th week turned negative.. Could it be hiv in my body??

Hi Jeck, thank you for reaching out to us. You cannot get HIV from kissing. There could have been transmission if you had cuts and bruises in your mouth and the other person was also bleeding. Kindly wait for the three months to pass and then take the test again.

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