Gay men in England who have never gone for HIV testing prefer self-testing and self-sampling more than going to an STD testing facility. On the other hand, men who tend to test more often prefer going to a sexual health clinic over self-testing.
This conclusion was reached after a research was conducted in England and the results published in BMJ Open. The study was conducted in 2014 and involved 14,317 gay men living in England who had never been diagnosed with HIV.
The researchers, however, analyzed data from 26% of the respondents who reported to have never taken an HIV test as well as 46% of respondents who had gone for HIV testing in the past year.
Characteristics of Men who Do Not Test
According to the research results, men under the age of 20 test less compared to those in their twenties and thirties. Interestingly, the number of men who test decreases as age increases. So does the frequency of testing. Education was another key factor that affected testing. Less educated men are less likely to test. White men test less compared to other ethnicities. Men born in England also test less than in men who had migrated from other countries.
73% of men involved in risky sexual behaviour such as sex without a condom with two or more casual partners were more likely to have tested in the past year. However, only 60% of such men had tested in the past six months. Six months is the most appropriate testing frequency for men involved in sexual risk.
Preferences for Future HIV Tests
The respondents were asked the mode of testing they would most prefer for future HIV testing and just 1% of men who had never tested before reported that they would not test in the future. This is an indication that HIV testing is broadly accepted.
For those who said they would go for testing again, 32% preferred self-sampling or self-testing, 31% sexual health facility, 22% a general practice, 8% a community testing service and 6% a private practice.
For those who had had previous tests, 56% said they’d go to a sexual health clinic, while 21% would rather do self-testing or self-sampling. 10% preferred community testing, 9% general practice and 2% private practice.
Pros and Cons of Self-Testing
Another study published in Plos One took a look at the benefits and drawbacks of self-testing among both gay and straight men. The study found that self-testing was largely acceptable to the participants. The biggest benefit of self-testing is that it prevented privacy and confidentiality issues especially among men who were not open about their sexuality.
Another benefit identified was convenience. The participants said that they valued the ability to test where and whenever they wanted. This was especially a good thing among men living far from large cities. The participants felt that the convenience of self-testing would encourage more men to test more frequently.
One of the popular concern of self-testing was the ability to accurately conduct and interpret a self-test. The participants said that the written instructions that come with the self-testing kits were too complicated causing anxiety and confusion.
The other concern was on how to handle a positive result on your own. The participants felt that it was important to have someone help you to deal with the trauma of an HIV positive result. This concern was especially high among men with more sexual risk behaviour.
Though self-testing is popular among first-time testers, the concern about handling a positive result on their own is a major contributing factor as to why testing at a health facility is still very common. This is because of the advice and support provided by clinic staff is very important to the individual. If anyone wishes to seek help, contact us now for more details.
Witzel TC et al. HIV testing history and preferences for future tests among gay men, bisexual men and other MSM in England: results from a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 6:e011372, 2016.
Witzel TC et al. HIV Self-Testing among Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in the UK: A Qualitative Study of Barriers and Facilitators, Intervention Preferences, and Perceived Impacts. PLoS ONE 11(9): e0162713, 2016.