Practicing safe sex and getting tested is the best protection against sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV/AIDS.
By using condoms and lubricant, you dramatically lower your risk of contracting an STI and HIV.
Where can I get tested for STI's and HIV?
You have a few options in Belgium:
- Everyone can get tested for STI and HIV at their doctor's office.
- Free and anonymous testing at a test centre: the Elisa centre in Brussels and the Helpcenter in Antwerp offer both standard blood tests and quick testing (results in 5 to 30 minutes)
- Anonymous at-home testing kit (Swab2Know): Order the kit through the website, take a sample at home and send it to the lab. For HIV screening only.
- Sexworkers can get free and anonymous testing at Violett and info4escorts
- Online self tests: The quality of STI tests sold on the internet cannot be guaranteed. Do not buy tests without a CE quality label.
When should you get tested?
In order to be sure your STI test will give an accurate result, you shouldn't test too early.
For STI's the window period varies between a couple of days and several months.
For HIV it depends on the type of test:
- after 4 weeks for a bloodtest via the lab
- after 3 months if you use an HIV self-testing kit
How often should you get tested?
Get tested for STIs and HIV immediately if:
- you think you are at risk for HIV. If that risk was less than 72 hours ago, PEP might prevent an infection.
- you have symptoms that may indicate HIV.
- you have symptoms that may indicate an STI.
Every 3 months if:
- you have more than 10 partners a year
- you have sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol (on a regular basis)
- you have sex without a condom with a new or casual partner
Get tested every 6 months if you have less than 10 partners a year.
Get tested every year if you have only sex with your regular partner.
What does a screening involve?
- Your health care provider will ask you questions to assess your risk for having HIV or STIs.
- He may look at your body for any signs of an infection, such as a rash, discharge, sores...
- A blood and urine sample will be taken and send to the lab for screening.
- Depending on the tests used, it can take anything from minutes, to days for the results.
- When the results arrive, the healthcare professional will explain what the results means.
- If your bloodwork comes back positive, your doctor will determine the correct course of action.
How much does an STI test cost?
It depends on the doctor and laboratory. In some cases you will need to get tested more than once.
If you are a Belgian resident it is mandatory to have health insurance. If you don't have ready cash for your doctor's visit, you can ask your doctor to get funded directly by your health insurance. You will only have to pay a small fee.
What are my chances of contracting an STI or HIV?
Your risk of contracting an STI is higher than that of getting HIV. Even when you use a condom or are abstinent, you can still contract an STI.
Some STI's are only transmitted by exchanging bodily fluids (like blood or sperm):
Other STI's can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact:
- genital warts
- pubic lice
How do you get HIV?
- you have sex without a condom
- the condom breaks or slips off
- you give somebody a blowjob and you have damaged gums
- you swallow sperm
- you share a sex toy without a condom or without disinfecting it
- fisting or getting fisted when the person fisting has wounds or cuts on his hand
Does having unprotected sex automatically lead to HIV?
Although you run a risk for HIV transmisson any time you have unprotected sex with an hiv-positive person, it doesn’t get passed on each time.
HIV transmission is more likely in the following scenario's:
- The other person has a high amount of HIV virus in their blood: your viral load is very high in the first weeks or months of infection.
- One of you has an STI: STI's form a gateway for the HIV virus to travel from one body to the next.
- Higher exposure to the virus: anal sex is higher risk than oral sex. Sharing drug needles is very high-risk.
PEP after an HIV risk
Did you have sex without a condom? Did the condom break or slip off? Act immediately if you ran a risk of contracting HIV.
PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) reduces your chance of becoming HIV positive. The sooner you start the treatment, the better your chance of PEP taking effect.
Contact an hiv helpcentre or a university hospital's emergency room. Inform them you may have been exposed to HIV. The doctor will ask you a few questions to assess your risk:
- Who did you have sex with? Do you know this person?
- Do you know if they are HIV positive?
- Do they take HIV medication?
- What is their viral load?
Based on this risk assessment, the doctor will decide whether to prescribe PEP. The treatment lasts 1 month and will be covered by your health insurance.
Get tested if you had unprotected sex over 72 hours ago.
HIV helpcentres in Belgium
You can get help at any HIV/AIDS helpcentre in Belgium (information in Dutch).
How to use a condom
Follow these steps:
- Carefully take the condom out of the wrapper. Make sure not to damage it with your fingernails or teeth.
- Pinch the top of the condom between your thumb and index finger. If you skip this step, the condom could rip when you come.
- While pinching the top, place the condom on your penis.
- With your other hand, roll down the condom over your penis.
- Roll down the condom as much possible. If the condom won't roll down, it might be inside out.
- When pulling out, hold the condom at the bottom of your penis so it doesn't slip off inside the other person.
Make sure to also follow these safety guidelines to ensure your condom doesn't tear or slip off:
- Check the expiration date. An expired condom rips easily.
- Only put on a condom when your penis is erect.
- Always use plenty of lubricant. Apply lubricant on the condom and onto the anus. Reapply regularly during sex.
- Change the condom every 15 minutes. The longer you have sex with the same condom, the higher its chances of ripping.
- Never use the same condom twice.
- Never use more than one condom at a time (double bagging). This will only cause the condom to rip.
Using a condom can take practice. If you've never used condoms before, practice a few times on your own before having sex with someone else.
Safely storing condoms
Store condoms away from heat and direct sunlight.
Only keep a condom in your wallet for a few weeks. Any longer and the friction will cause damage to the wrapper and the condom will dry out. This can cause the condom to tear.
Frequently asked questions
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Some people experience no symptoms after infection with HIV.
2 out of 3 people notice symptoms around 2 to 4 weeks after contracting the virus. The symptoms resemble those of a common cold or flu. They can be mild to severe:
- joint pain
- swollen glands in neck and/or groin
- sore throat
- night sweats
Get tested 3 to 4 weeks after possible exposure, whether or not you have any symptoms.
Where can I buy condoms in Belgium?
In Belgium you can buy condoms and lubricant at:
- supermarkets and convenience stores
- drug stores and pharmacists
- night shops
- sex shops
- most sex venues provide free condoms and lubricant at the counter
When buying condoms, always look for a CE quality label on the packaging.
What size condoms do I need?
Most men need a standard sized condom.
- Buy smaller condoms if the condom slips off your penis.
- Buy bigger condoms if the condom doesn't fit.
What type of lubricant should I use?
Use water- or silicone-based lubricant. Water-based lubricant dries out more quickly, but silicone-based lubricant can stain.
Oil based lubricant can cause the condom to break.
Don't use olive oil or hand cream.
Is it safe to be gay in Belgium?
It is perfectly fine to be gay in Belgium. Being gay and having same-sex intercourse is legal. Gay marriage has been legalised since 2002.
Belgium has a thriving gay scene. There are bars, clubs, saunas, organizations and events that specifically cater to gay and bisexual men.
Unfortunately, gay bashing does occur. If you are targeted because of your sexuality, report the incident at your nearest police station. Also report any homophobic abuse or discrimination to Lumi (0800-99 533).
Where can I meet other LGBT people of colour?
Belgium has many organizations that specifically cater to LGBT people of colour.
Here are only a few:
Where can I get PrEP in Belgium?
You can get help at any HIV/AIDS helpcentre in Belgium (information in Dutch).