What to Expect: Getting Tested for STDs
If you have never been tested for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or if it has been a while since your last test, here are a few things you should know about getting checked out.
Should you get tested?
If you are a man who is actively having sex with other men, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea once a year. However, if you’re having sex with multiple partners, you should get tested more frequently—for example, every three to six months. The CDC also recommends getting tested for HIV every three to six months.
In addition to routine screening, you should also seek testing as soon as possible if you are experiencing possible STD symptoms or think you may have been exposed to an STD. Although symptoms vary depending on the type of STD, here are a few things you should look for:
- Unusual discharge from the penis or anus
- Pain when peeing
- Lumps or skin growths around the genitals or anus
- A rash
- Itchy genitals or anus
- Blisters, sores, and/or warts around your genitals or anus
Some STDs, such as chlamydia, might not cause any symptoms at all. That’s why if you’ve had unprotected sex with a partner who has an STD (or whom you believe might have one), you should get tested even if you’re not experiencing symptoms.
Making the appointment
Getting tested for an STD usually requires an in-person visit, although your provider may offer a telehealth consultation. Contact your healthcare provider directly to schedule an appointment. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, you can use the sexual health services locator to find an STD testing clinic near you.
It’s important to note that STD testing may not be included in your regular checkup, so you may have to ask your healthcare provider for it.
Most insurance plans, including MassHealth, cover the cost of STD and HIV testing. Some health clinics and testing sites may offer free or low-cost testing if you do not have health insurance.
At your appointment
Getting tested for an STD is often a quick process, but unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all test for every disease.
Since some STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, look and act alike, your provider might test for a few different infections. In addition, each STD has its own type of test and might require testing from several places on your body. Among the types of tests you might get:
- A urine test. Just like it sounds, you pee into a cup. Urine tests are standard tests to detect gonorrhea and chlamydia.
- A swab test. Your provider takes a sample with a cotton-tipped applicator of fluid from your penis, urethra, cervix, anus, or throat. Swab tests are commonly performed for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
- A blood test. Your provider draws blood from your arm or pricks your finger. Blood tests are most common for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis.
- A physical exam. Your provider examines your genital area to check for warts, sores, rashes, irritation, or discharge.
During your visit, your healthcare provider may ask a series of questions about your sexual history, such as if you use condoms or if you’ve had any type of sexual contact involving skin-to-skin genital contact or passing sexual fluids. Your doctor may also ask if you have a history of sharing needles or other drug-injection equipment. While you may not be used to sharing personal information like this, it’s best to be open and honest with your provider to get the care you need. Remember that everything you share with your healthcare provider is confidential.
Your healthcare provider may be able to tell right away if you have an STD, but some tests can take a few days to get results. Ask your provider how long your results should take. If you don’t hear back within the timeframe, follow up with a call.
If your results come back positive, the good news is that most STDs can be treated or cured. Be sure to follow your provider’s instructions, take your medications as prescribed, and take measures to prevent giving your STD to your sex partners, such as wearing a condom, dental dam, or another barrier method every time you have sex.
Speaking of sex partners, you should also notify anyone you’ve had sex with as soon as you have a diagnosis so that they can get tested and treated. If you’re not comfortable having the conversation, contact the Partner Services Program (PSP), a free service in Massachusetts that helps people who have been diagnosed with STDs and HIV to notify their partners—and get them the care they need.
When should you get tested again?
Just because you’ve had an STD doesn’t mean you can’t get one again. For example, you may take medication to cure gonorrhea, but a new exposure can start a new infection. And if your partner doesn’t get treatment, it’s possible to pass the infection back and forth.
You can take care of your sexual health by taking steps like wearing condoms to lower your risk of STDs and getting tested whenever you think you might have been exposed.
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