Why should I get tested?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs) are very common. Every year there are more than 19 million new cases of STDs in the U.S. By age 25, roughly one in two sexually active people will get one. If you think it can’t happen to you…think again. Since STDs often show no symptoms, many of those infected don’t even know it. The only way to know if you or a partner has an STD is to get tested. Here’s the good news: all STDs are treatable, and many are curable. Putting off getting care for an STD can have lasting health effects for both women and men. Left untreated, some STDs can cause infertility (that is, make you unable to have children). Some can also increase your risk of getting cancer. And get this—already having an STD increases your risk of getting HIV and other STDs if you have sex with an infected partner.
If you notice any changes or irritations “down there,” or any unusual discharge or discomfort when urinating, you should see a health care provider immediately as these may be signs of an STD. However, not all genital infections are STDs. STDs can often be mistaken for common infections or irritations. For example, bumps like pimples or hair follicles on or around the genitals may be confused for genital warts. Women often confuse STDs with yeast infections and other conditions. That’s why it’s important to see a health care provider, who can determine what (if any) STDs you should be tested for.
Not everyone likes to talk about their sexual history. But, before you start a new sexual relationship, it’s a good idea to talk with your partner about your sexual history and getting tested for STDs. After all, you are not just having sex with your partner but with everyone they’ve had sex with…and everyone they’ve had sex with…and well, you get the point. It can be intimidating to think about, but taking charge and getting tested will help you take control over the situation.
Wouldn’t I know if I or my partner had an STD?
The only way to know if you or anyone else has an STD is to get tested. You can’t always tell by the way someone “looks.” STDs are very common, and it only takes one sexual experience to get one. Even more to the point: STDs, including HIV, often have NO symptoms. Zero. That’s right. So, many people who are infected don’t even know it! Want to know for sure? Then Get Yourself—and Your Partner—Tested (GYT). Knowledge is power! Know yourself. Know your status. GYT.
Which STDs should I get tested for?
STDs are not like allergies; you can’t do a massive test for all the major ones out there. STD tests are specific to each infection. You and your health care provider will decide which STDs you should be tested for. But most importantly you need to speak up and ask to get tested. You can’t assume that you have been tested for STDs if you have had blood taken, given a urine sample, or (for women) had a pelvic exam or pap test. If you want to know, ASK to be tested.
Be honest and open with your health care provider about your sexual history. They are there to help you, not to judge you. The doc will help you make important decisions about test(s) you may need. Certain STDs are so common that your health care provider may suggest that you get tested regularly for them.
What’s involved in testing?
Okay, so you’ve decided to get tested. Now what? The type of test—or tests—you need can vary depending on your age, sex, sexual history, and which STD you’re getting tested for. Remember, there is no single test that can screen for all STDs.
Your test may include:
Physical exam – Your health care provider may examine you for any signs of an infection, such as a rash, discharge, sores, or warts. For women, this exam can be similar to a pelvic exam.
Urine sample – You may be asked to pee into a cup at your clinic/doctor’s office. Urine samples can be used to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Discharge, tissue, cell or oral fluid sample – Your provider will use a swab to collect samples that will be looked at under a microscope. These samples can test for certain STDs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, or HIV.
Blood sample – Your provider may take a blood sample, either with a needle or by pricking the skin to draw drops of blood. These can be used, for example, to test for syphilis, herpes, or HIV.
Make sure you know what you’re being tested for.
Sometimes a diagnosis can be made based on symptoms or a physical exam. Treatment could be prescribed right away. Other times, your provider may need to send a sample away to a lab. Waiting for results can be stressful. Always follow up! If you don’t get your results, it’s as good as not having been tested. Don’t assume your results are negative if you don’t hear back—find out for sure.
Who will know?
Generally, medical information is kept confidential between the patient and health care provider. Positive results for some STDs, like HIV or syphilis, may be shared with state or city health departments for tracking purposes, but there are laws preventing health departments from sharing your test results with your family, friends, or employer. If you use health insurance to get tested, you should consider who else has access to that information (like a parent or partner if you share health insurance). Be sure to ask your health care provider who will know that you got tested and who will know your results, especially if you are using insurance. Ask questions and stay informed.
If you are under 18, there are places where you can get confidential testing without parental permission, meaning your parents don’t need to give permission for you to be there, and they won’t be contacted by the clinic. Your parents won’t even know that you were there. When making your appointment for STD testing, ask about the health center’s privacy policies: Will they call you at home with test results? Will they send a bill to you? Will they send other mail? Every facility works differently—it’s OK to ask.
How much will it cost?
Costs can vary from health center to health center, and depend on which tests you get. Many health centers/clinics offer low-cost or even free testing. Others offer tests on a sliding scale (based on what you can afford). And most accept health insurance. If you’re uninsured or prefer not to use your health insurance for STD testing, you can talk to your health center/clinic about payment options. Be sure to ask about cost when you call to make your appointment.
What happens next if I test positive for an STD?
Okay, so you have an STD. Breathe. Remember, all STDs are treatable and many are curable. There are different treatments for different STDs. For some STDs, there are several treatment options. Here are two examples:
- If you test positive for chlamydia, you will be given a prescription for an antibiotic that will cure this case of chlamydia. It is important that you follow the treatment recommended by your health care provider—completely. Always continue your medication until it is finished, even if your symptoms have gone away. You could still get chlamydia again, if exposed to someone who has it. So it’s important that your partner(s) also get tested and treated for chlamydia before resuming sexual activity.
- If you test positive for herpes, you can take medications to treat the symptoms. Medications are also available to help prevent future outbreaks and minimize their severity, as well as to lower the chances of passing the virus on to partners. About one in six adults have herpes in the U.S.—and they live normal, healthy lives. You’re not alone! You can also join support groups for people with herpes to help you cope and prevent transmission to others.
How do I tell my partner that I have an STD?
Some conversations seem really hard to have. Telling someone you have an STD is one of them. But it’s not just about you. Your partner needs to know so he or she can get tested and treated if necessary. Everyone gets an STD from someone else. Part of stopping the spread of STDs is open communication, so Get Yourself Talking. This is never an easy conversation, but it is a very important conversation to have. Many couples report that this conversation actually brings them closer together.
Make a plan. As soon as you’re ready, you should bring it up with your partner. You could talk to someone else about it first and practice what you’re going to say. You could journal about it or practice talking in a mirror. You could even write your partner a letter. The main point is just to communicate. Be there for your partner the way you hope he or she would be there for you.
Where do I go to get tested?
Finding a testing center near you is quick and easy. Just enter your zipcode in the testing center locator at www.GYTNOW.org or text your zip code to GYTNOW (498669) on your mobile phone.* You will get a text message back with information about the nearest testing center to you. Simple.
* Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to 498669 to opt out, or text HELP to 498669 to get help.