This study uses eight waves of data from the population-based Tsogolo la Thanzi study (2009–2011) in rural Malawi to examine changes in young women’s contraceptive practices, including the use of condoms, non-barrier contraceptive methods and abstinence, following positive and negative HIV tests. The analysis factors in women’s prior perceptions of their HIV status that may already be shaping their behaviour and separates surprise HIV test results from those that merely confirm what was already believed. Fixed-effects logistic regression models show that HIV testing frequently affects the contraceptive practices of young Malawian women, particularly when the test yields an unexpected result. Specifically, women who are surprised to test HIV positive increase their condom use and are more likely to use condoms consistently. Following an HIV-negative test (whether a surprise or expected), women increase their use of condoms and decrease their use of non-barrier contraceptives; the latter may be due to an increase in abstinence following a surprise negative result. Changes in condom use following HIV testing are robust to the inclusion of potential explanatory mechanisms, including fertility preferences, relationship status and the perception that a partner is HIV positive. The results demonstrate that both positive and negative tests can influence women’s sexual and reproductive behaviours, and emphasize the importance of conceptualizing of HIV testing as offering new information only insofar as results deviate from prior perceptions of HIV status.