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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), often called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are very common.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
Unfortunately, many people don’t receive prompt treatment for STIs. Many STIs have no symptoms or very nonspecific symptoms, which can make them hard to notice. The stigma around STIs also discourages some people from getting tested.
If left untreated, STIs can cause severe health problems, including cancer and infertility. Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have an STI. In this article, we’ll go over who should get tested, where you can get tested, and other frequently asked questions.
If you’ve been sexually active, it’s a good idea to be tested for STIs. It’s especially important to get tested if:
- you’re about to begin a new relationship
- you and your partner are thinking about not using condoms
- your partner has cheated on you or has multiple partners
- you have multiple partners
- you have symptoms that suggest you might have an STI
If you’re in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, and both you and your partner were tested before entering the relationship, you may not need regular STI testing.
But many people in long-term relationships weren’t tested before they got together. If that’s the case for you and your partner, it’s possible that one or both of you have been carrying an undiagnosed STI for years. The safest choice is to get tested.
There are a number of different STIs. To learn which ones you should be tested for, talk with your doctor. They may encourage you to be tested for one or more of the following:
Your doctor probably won’t offer to test you for herpes unless you have a known exposure or ask for the test.
Ask your doctor
Don’t assume that your doctor will automatically test you for all STIs at your annual physical or sexual health checkup. Many physicians don’t regularly test patients for STIs. It’s important to ask your doctor for STI testing. Ask which tests they plan to do and why.
Taking care of your sexual health is nothing to be shy about. If you’re concerned about a particular infection or symptom, talk with your doctor. The more honest you are, the better treatment you can receive.
It’s important to get screened if you’re pregnant, as STIs can have an effect on the fetus. Your doctor should screen for STIs, among other things, at your first prenatal visit.
You should also get tested if you’ve been forced to have intercourse or any other type of sexual activity. If you’ve experienced sexual assault or were forced into any sexual activity, you should seek care from a trained healthcare professional.
Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) offer support for survivors of rape or sexual assault. You can call RAINN’s 24/7 national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 for anonymous, confidential help.
Discuss your risk factors
It’s also important to share your sexual risk factors with your doctor. In particular, you should always tell them if you engage in anal sex.
Some anal STIs can’t be detected using standard STI tests. Your doctor might recommend an anal Pap smear to screen for precancerous or cancerous cells, which are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
You should also tell your doctor about:
- the types of protection you use during oral, vaginal, and anal sex
- any medications you’re taking
- any known or suspected exposures you’ve had to STIs
- whether you or your partner have other sexual partners
Some of the places you can go to recieve STI testing include:
- Planned Parenthood. STI testing is available at Planned Parenthood. Costs vary by certain factors, including income, demographics and assistance eligibility.
- Doctor’s office. For quick testing, you can schedule an appointment with your doctor, or visit your local urgent care center.
- Local health clinics. Most government-funded healthcare clinics offer free or low-cost STI testing for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV. Some also receive funding to test for herpes, trichomoniasis, and hepatitis.
- Pharmacy. Some pharmacies offer the options to schedule testing for certain STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV.
- At home. Currently, the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is the only HIV test that’s FDA approved, but there are other options if you don’t live in the United States. There are also other STI home-testing kits like LetsGetChecked, STD Check, Everlywell, and Nurx.
Several STIs are notifiable diseases. That means your doctor is legally required to report positive results to the government. The government tracks information about STIs to inform public health initiatives. Notifiable STIs include:
At-home tests and online tests are also available for some STIs, but they aren’t always reliable. Check to make sure the
Depending on your sexual history, your doctor may order a variety of tests to check you for STIs, including:
Blood and urine tests
Most STIs can be tested by using urine or blood samples. Your doctor can order urine or blood tests to check for:
In some cases, urine and blood tests aren’t as accurate as other forms of testing. It may also take a month or longer after being exposed to certain STIs for blood tests to be reliable.
If HIV is contracted, for example, it can take a couple of weeks to a few months for tests to detect the infection.
Many doctors use vaginal, cervical, or urethral swabs to check for STIs.
If you have a vagina, doctors can use a cotton applicator to take vaginal and cervical swabs during a pelvic exam. Regardless of if you’re a person with a penis or a vagina, they can take urethral swabs by inserting a cotton applicator into your urethra.
If you have anal sex, they may also take a rectal swab to check for infectious organisms in your rectum.
Pap smears and HPV testing
Strictly speaking, a Pap smear isn’t an STI test. A Pap smear is a test that looks for early signs of cervical or anal cancer.
People assigned female at birth who have persistent HPV infections, particularly infections by HPV-16 and HPV-18, are at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. People who engage in anal sex can also develop anal cancer from HPV infections.
A normal Pap smear result says nothing about whether or not you have an STI. To check for HPV, your doctor will order a separate HPV test.
An abnormal Pap smear result doesn’t necessarily mean that you have, or will get, cervical or anal cancer. Many abnormal Pap smears resolve without treatment.
If you have an abnormal Pap smear, your doctor may recommend HPV testing. If the HPV test is negative, it’s unlikely that you’ll develop cervical or anal cancer in the near future.
HPV tests alone aren’t very useful for predicting cancer. According to the CDC, about
Your doctor can conduct a physical exam to look for sores, bumps, and other signs of STIs. They can also take samples from any questionable areas to send to a laboratory for testing.
It’s important to let your doctor know if you’ve noticed any changes on or around your genitals. If you engage in anal sex, you should also let them know about any changes on or around your anus and rectum.
How much does STI testing cost?
STI testing costs depend on several factors like where you get tested, the type of insurance you have, and your income.
What STIs should I be tested for?
- anyone ages 13-64 should be tested for HIV
- sexually active women under 25 should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia yearly
- women 25 and over who have multiple sex partners or partners with an STD should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia yearly
- pregnant women should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B, and high-risk pregnant women should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia
- sexually active men should be tested for syphilis, chlamydia, HIV and gonorrhea every 3-6 months
- anyone who practices sex without a barrier method should get tested for HIV yearly
How long does an STI test take?
The length of time it takes for an STI test depends on the type of test you take. But most STI tests take a few minutes to collect either urine, saliva, or a blood sample for your test.
Some STI results can come back to you as soon as 20 minutes after being tested, while others could take up to a week for results.
STIs are common, and testing is widely available. The tests can vary, depending on which STIs your doctor is checking for.
Talk with your doctor about your sexual history and ask which tests you should get. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of different STI tests. They can also recommend appropriate treatment options if you test positive for any STIs.