Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/01/2020
About 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year, according to the Center for Disease Control. They can spread with vaginal, anal or oral sex in people of all ages and sexual orientations. STI testing allows people to make informed decision about sexual activity (and get those who test positive started on treatment).
But many people hesitate to get tested due to lack of information or misunderstanding about the process. We’ve broken down the logistics of STI/STD testing below to help you better navigate that world and take control of your sexual health.
Many STIs won’t show any symptoms. You could go years without ever realizing you have one. Left untreated, some STIs can cause more severe health problems down the road from organ damage to cancer to infertility. You could also pass along the infection to future partners.
STI testing isn’t as much of a hassle as people think. Plus, if you get negative test results, you’ll enjoy peace of mind. If you get a positive diagnosis, you’ll be able to intervene to keep the infection from spreading or causing other health issues. There’s plenty of treatment options for managing or even curing the infection.
Once you have had unprotected sex, you should get STI/STD testing. Most people don’t head over to the clinic after their first unprotected sexual encounter, so odds are, you're overdue.
If you’ve been sexually active but never been tested, you’ll want to get tested right away even if you aren’t currently seeing someone. The results will help you and your future partner make informed decisions about protection. If you test positive, it’ll also allow you to get started on symptom management or treatment as soon as possible.
After you get your initial results, you’ll have your sexual health status quo. Consider getting tested again after you have unprotected sex with a new partner. There’s always a chance they unknowingly caught something from a past partner and passed an asymptomatic infection to you. Getting new results is the only way for you to rule out that possibility.
The CDC also provides screening recommendations to help you know when to get tested. Everyone should be tested at least once for HIV. Yearly chlamydia and gonorrhea tests are recommended for women under 25, women with a new partner and women with multiple partners.
Many places can get you results: Your general doctor’s office, your gynecologist, Planned Parenthood health centers, nonprofit organizations and some local governments offer testing through their health division. Use this search tool by the CDC to find options near you.
There’s no wrong place to go and most people make the choice based on their insurance coverage. Simply give them a call to see where they recommend going.
You also have the option of at-home testing, which involves collecting the samples yourself and sending them to a clinic. You skip a doctor’s visit, but these kits aren’t always the most reliable. If you go this route, make sure the test is approved by the FDA.
Your STI testing cost will depend on a few things:
Where you go: Clinics vary in their cost and it’s largely influenced by whether they are covered by your insurance
What test you get: Different ones cost different amounts
Your salary: You may qualify for financial assistance
Your health insurance: Providers vary in their coverage amounts
Doing some research helps you find the most budget-friendly option. But when it comes to your health, remember that it’s always worth the investment. STI testing cost may have you up in arms, but trust us: It's worth it.
You’ll need multiple tests to check for the different STIs. Be specific about the ones you want to get since doctors vary in what they define as a comprehensive check. The types of test can include a urine test, blood test, visual inspection and swab.
It’s important you tell your doctor about the types of sexual activity you engage in since that can affect the testing you need. For example, say you are at risk for gonorrhea. If you engage in oral and vaginal sex, you may need your throat tested as well.
Be sure you understand the clinic’s policy for giving results. Some only call with positive test results. Some wait for all the results before calling while others alert you when each test comes back. Many places also offer online patient portals so you can see your results online when they come in.
The best time to talk to your partner about testing is before you engage in unprotected sex. If you both already have results, you can share them. If one of you needs testing, the conversation can help get that ball rolling.
If you’ve already engaged in unprotected sex with a partner, now’s the time to talk about testing. Bring up the topic in the right setting—when there’s privacy and you both can be fully attentive to a respectful conversation. Stress that it’s not a lack of trust or an accusation about cheating, but rather a recognition that one of you might have an undetected infection from a past partner. Focus on the importance of knowing the results. Either you’re both clean (and you both gain peace of mind) or someone is positive (and they can get the treatment they need).
If your partner resists testing, see if it’s due to misconceptions. Maybe they heard the testing is painful or too intrusive, so you talk about how simple the tests are. Maybe they think they won’t be able to afford it, so you suggest talking to their insurance or finding a free clinic. Clearing up any misunderstandings may be all they need. You can even suggest getting testing done together.
Whether you currently have a partner or not, STI testing is crucial. It’s an empowering move to help you stay informed about your sexual health and take care of your body.