This week’s Ask Anything column is answered by Liam, a fantastic Sense animator who facilitates our workshops in schools! As I mentioned before, Sense now has a formspring account where you can ask us anything – any of your awkward, out-there or just plain practical questions about sex. You can ask your questions anonymously at any time in the box to the right –> and we’ll post the answers here on the blog!
Q: i see you guys are doing HIV testing, can you get tested even if you had unprotected sex a week ago, will it show up on the test?
Great question! The answer is a resounding no. A lot of STIs have what’s called a ‘window period’. A window period is the time where an STI is alive in your body, is totally contagious, but is still undetectable by a test. Chlamydia’s window period is 3 to 10 days, but HIV’s window period is 3 to 6 months. This means that if you’ve had sex and are worried about having contracted HIV, you have to wait 3 to 6 months to get accurate test results (in most cases, the test will be accurate after 3 months but to be sure, it’s important to get tested after 6 months as well). The window period is really important because it means that HIV can be transmitted for a full 6 months before you can even know whether or not it’s in your body. When a doctor tests for HIV, they are actually testing for the antibodies that your body will produce to fight HIV. Even during window periods, condoms are a very effective way to protect yourself and your partners from HIV.
Because HIV has the longest window period out of all the STIs, it’s a good idea to use it as a marker for how often you can effectively get tested for STIs. For a person who is sexually active and has either multiple partners or at least one partner who has multiple partners, think about getting tested every 6 months. For everybody else, think about getting tested 6 months after each new sexual partner.
Some people choose to get tested for HIV even if it’s earlier than the three months’ window period, because they want to reduce their immediate anxiety. This is okay, but you will just have to remember that the test reflects where your health was at three months ago, and that you’ll need to get re-tested for a truly accurate result. You can always get tested for HIV at the Head & Hands medical clinic on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, or watch the website for news of upcoming special HIV testing clinics, like the one coming up on March 31st.
Hope this helps!