HIV testing: feelings of fear, anxiety and guilt

Taking an HIV test can be 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 3-4 weeks gives you a pretty good answer. A test at 6 weeks is better still. In the UK a test after 6 weeks doesn’t need a second test 12 weeks later.

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 straight and just 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 to have sex.
  • If you were sexually assaulted.

An obsessive focus on HIV risk can lead to psychological problems out of proprtion to the actual 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.

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 does turn out to be 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.

Last updated: 28 November 2020.