Taking an HIV test is very stressful. It focuses your mind on the real risk, however small, that you might be HIV positive.

Even though 99% of tests in a sexual health clinic in the UK are negative, the worry is still real.

It is also stressful because if the risk was recent it will take time to know if you caught HIV. A test at four weeks gives you a pretty good answer until you get the final test after 12 weeks.

This stress is usually still manageable. But, for a few people, HIV can become an unhealthy obsession that is out of all proportion to their level of risk.

This is often made worse by feelings of guilt related to the circumstances of the risk.

For example:

  • If you usually use a condom but didn’t on one occasion, or the condom broke.
  • If these are your first sexual experiences, whatever your age.
  • If you have tried new experiences. For example if you are usually a straight man and had sex with another man.
  • If you are in a relationship, gay or straight, and have had sex outside your main relationship.
  • If you paid for sex or were paid for sex.
  • If you were sexually assaulted.

An obsessive focus on HIV can lead to psychological problems unconnected with the real risk.

There is also a concern for current sexual partners. If the risk was from a sexual experience outside your main relationship, this may involve changes to your sex life at home to protect your partner until you have your test results.

Worry and stress can cause symptoms that people then assume is HIV, especially if the worry has stopped you sleeping.

A health advisor can talk you through this. You also have to fight the urge to believe that the worst outcome is going to happen.

Life is complicated and it is common over a lifetime to do things that you are not always happy with afterwards.

However, if your test result is positive there is a lot you can do. A tiny virus will complicate your life but most people still have the health and the life they had before.

Life expectancy for people who have access to treatment is now close to that of an HIV negative person.

1 February 2013