I find it absolutely wild that in the year 2019, I’m finding people in their late twenties on dating sites who have never had an STI test. Most of these people are cis men who have been sexually active within the last year (if not more recently) and, as willing as I am to educate potential partners on sexual health, I feel like at our age this information is long overdue. For those who have yet to experience an STI test, here’s a crash course on what to expect.
How often should I get tested?
Getting tested for STIs is an important part of your health as a sexually active person, even if you are someone who always uses condoms or other forms of birth control. While annual exams are a good start, I’d suggest getting tested yearly OR with each new sexual partner–whichever comes first. If your partner has any additional partners, you may want to get tested more regularly with them. You can request an STI panel from your primary care physician during an annual appointment or go directly to a sexual health clinic like Planned Parenthood.
What does getting tested entail?
If you’re going into a clinic to get an STI test, your visit will likely be brief and painless. If you’re going with a partner, they may separate you for privacy purposes (Planned Parenthood has a policy against taking couples in together in case either partner is experiencing sexual violence). You’ll likely have a conversation with a nurse, doctor, or medical assistant about your sexual history and current sexual lifestyle. They’ll ask you things like the number of partners you currently have, their gender(s), if you use condoms or other birth control, any history of STIs, and if you feel safe with any current partners. Keep in mind that they’re there to help you–not judge you–so be honest when answering questions so they can provide the best possible care.
You’ll be asked to provide a urine sample, which is usually a simple process (if you have trouble with doing this at doctor’s offices, check out my guide on STP devices). In addition to a urine sample, most clinics will do a quick blood draw.
Now, if you’re afraid of needles like I am this is going to be the most difficult part of the process. However, it will be over before you know it and the satisfaction of knowing you’re keeping on top of your sexual health is worth the discomfort. Alert the nurse if you do have a needle phobia or tend to pass out when giving blood. Otherwise, take a deep breath and it will be over in just a moment.
Blood tests are important to test for things like HIV and syphilis. Some clinics may be able to test for HIV with an oral test, which usually involves holding a cotton swab or strip of paper in between your gums and your cheek for a few minutes. These are completely painless and great if you do have that needle phobia, but not all clinics can use this method. If you’re concerned about the blood draw, you can ask about testing methods when making your appointment.
You can request a physical exam if you have any sign of outbreaks on your genitals or anything you’re particularly concerned about, but there often is no need for a physical exam when testing for STIs. Most testing appointments can be completed in 15-20 minutes.
How long does it take to get results?
The length of time before you get results is going to depend on the clinic you use. Some clinics may offer “rapid HIV” testing, which means you can get your HIV results before you leave the office. Others may take up to a week or two to get results. If you’re concerned about anything and need results by a specific time, be sure to talk to the clinic employee when making the appointment about wait times. With my local Planned Parenthood, I usually get the rapid HIV test within 20 minutes and receive the rest of my results in about a week on their online portal.
What do I do if I test positive for something?
If you test positive for anything, a staff member will be in contact. They will either discuss your treatment options over the phone or have you come in for a follow-up appointment. Take a deep breath! STIs are common and most have no long-term effects. Many can be treated with simple antibiotics. Your doctor will go over the best treatment options and assist you with anything you need after testing positive. You will be encouraged to reach out to sexual partners and urge them to get tested as well, just to make sure everyone is aware of their status and practicing safe sex.
Hopefully reading about the process of getting tested for STIs had made it less scary for you to go get tested yourself. It’s important that sexually active people get tested regularly to make sure everyone is safe and in good health. Knowing your status is important, especially when engaging with multiple partners. I urge you to go get tested if you haven’t yet this year, and suggest any partners you have do the same. What was your testing experience like? Was it as you expected? Feel free to share your experiences (please do not disclose identifying information or personal results) about getting tested.
This article was sponsored. All writing and opinions are my own.