So you’ve made your appointment to get tested for STI’s, and you’re nervous. No worries! It’s actually very easy to get tested. The most common things to get screened for are HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, and if you have no symptoms you may not even need an exam. If you have symptoms like genital bumps or sores, you may get a physical examination by the practitioner for diagnosis.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are often tested for together. They can now be tested for with a simple urine test, no exam needed. It’s important to not urinate for at least an hour before your appointment and follow the instructions for the urine sample precisely, because an incorrect sample can make the test inaccurate. If you have a vagina, you can also do a self-obtained vaginal swab or have the practitioner swab your cervix during a pelvic exam, but the urine test is the least invasive way. It is no longer common for a swab of the penile urethra to be performed (whew!).
For HIV testing, you have some options. Depending on which test you and your provider discuss, you may have your mouth swabbed, your finger stuck, or your blood drawn from your arm. Many places require you to return to the clinic for the results, so if you have the option of doing the 20 minute rapid test, go for it. You get your results the same day. Don’t forget it can take up to 3 months, and rarely, 6 months, for HIV to show up on a test, so take that into account and plan to retest if you’ve been potentially exposed recently.
Syphilis is a blood test, no way around that one unfortunately. To prepare for your blood test, eat and drink something before your exam and tell your provider if you have a history of fainting or getting sick with needle sticks.
Other infections people frequently request screening for are genital warts and Herpes. These tests are ideally performed when physically symptoms are present. It is important to get into your health center as soon as possible if any new bumps or lesions are noticed, because if they begin to heal or go away by your visit time it can make diagnosis more difficult. A blood test for the Herpes Simplex Virus does exist, but it is usually extremely expensive and will only tell you if you have anti-bodies to the virus (meaning you’ve been exposed), which many of us have. It can’t tell you if you will have an outbreak or if you are capable of passing it to a partner. The best test for genital Herpes is a culture of an open sore or lesion.
Important tips for your visit:
- Ask every question you think of! There are no stupid questions, and we clinic workers like to educate our patients so we’re happy to talk about whatever your concerns are.
- Tell your provider what’s going on. If you have symptoms or discomfort, let them know. You may need another test, an exam, or some medication. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about possible exposure, symptoms or anything else.
- Make sure you call or return to the clinic for your results. Your provider should contact you with any positive results, but it’s always best if you check on the results yourself.