What to do before your HIV and STI test

When you’re headed out the door, do you go through some variation of this checklist:

Hair? Check. Phone charged? Check. Keys? Check. Outfit? Stunning. 😉

Just like this, before getting a sexual health screen, there are a few things you can also run through to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible. So, whether it’s your first time getting tested or your umpteenth, check out our list of what you might consider ahead of the test!

Book your test

Getting tested for HIV and STIs starts with making an appointment. You can make an appointment at a sexual health clinic or through a doctor, also known as a general practitioner (GP).

While it may be possible to attend some locations for walk-in appointments, usually, the best way to make sure you don’t miss out is to call ahead for an appointment or book online. You can use our tool to find a place to get tested near you.

Getting tested at sexual health clinics across NSW is entirely free, and no Medicare is required. If instead you get tested at a GP, there can be fees associated with the consultation and pathology. To know what to expect, make sure to ask at the time you make your appointment.

If you have symptoms, mention it when you book at a sexual health clinic

If you have symptoms when you book your appointment at a sexual health clinic, make sure to mention it to the person taking your booking. Most testing services only offer testing for people without symptoms of an STI, so if they can’t help you, they’ll be able to refer you to another testing site. Alternatively, you can call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 and speak to a nurse for advice.

When you’re experiencing symptoms, it’ll also usually mean you’ll have to see a doctor. They will prioritise your appointment, getting you in sooner than if you were going in for a regular check-up.

If you’re a potential contact for an STI, don’t delay

If you’re contacted by a sexual partner who’s tested positive for an STI, book an appointment as soon as possible. It’s likely that your testing site will also prioritise your appointment, and potentially start you on a course of treatment, ahead of receiving your results. Testing after being exposed to an STI can sometimes mean you’ll also need to wait several days to account for the window period of a particular STI. The STI window period is the time after exposure to an STI, during which it may not show up on a test. For HIV, for example, it can be up to 3 months. So to account for this, you will often be told to return again after a certain period for a follow-up test. When you inform your doctor or sexual health clinic about the STI you’ve been contacted for, they will advise you on the timing of when to retest.

For privacy, set aside time in your calendar as an ‘appointment’

Sometimes the only time you can get into a doctor or sexual health clinic is during working hours. This means you might have to put in a request or block out hours in a shared calendar – whatever the situation, you don’t need to disclose what the appointment is for.

If asked directly, you can say it’s a medical appointment and keep the specifics to yourself. If you want to record it in your calendar, you can record it simply as ‘appointment’ or leave yourself a discreet reminder – as long as you remember what it means.

Practise self-care before getting your test

If it’s your first time getting tested, you may feel a little nervous – and that’s OK! You might want to consider practising self-care to soothe those nerves before arriving at the testing site. Whether listening to a favourite playlist, chatting with a friend, or going for a walk outside, take some time to relax and put things in perspective. Getting tested is, after all, one of the best ways to look after your sexual health!

Hold off peeing before your appointment

A usual part of an STI screen means you’ll be providing a urine sample – which means you’ll need to be able to pee! A urine sample is where you pee into a clear plastic jar with a yellow lid, usually about three-quarters full. To make sure you can pee, it’s advised not to urinate at least 20-30 minutes before your appointment. Similarly, to avoid a situation where you’re busting to go, hold off drinking large amounts of water ahead of your appointment.

Do you need a new script for PrEP? Check your supplies ahead of time

If you are one of the thousands of guys taking PrEP in NSW, it might be a good opportunity to get a new PrEP script when heading in for your 3-monthly test. So, if this is the case for you, check your scripts and any remaining PrEP stocks ahead of the appointment to ensure you can keep taking it as planned without any unexpected interruptions.

Have worries or concerns about your appointment? Ask!

Many services operate through a phone booking system, and it may be possible to ask them about any worries or concerns you may have in the lead-up to testing. This could be anything from the types of tests available, how to expect your testing results, to what happens if you test positive.

Other people may be interested to find out how prepared the service is to help people who are gay, bi, queer, trans or non-binary. Feeling safe while you access the service is important! Finding out ahead of the appointment can arm you with the knowledge of what to expect and give you the confidence to turn up on the day.

If you want general advice about getting tested or for testing referrals, you can call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624.