We always talk about how it’s important to get tested for STIs as an essential part of taking charge of your own sexual health! But what does “getting tested” really mean?
“I got tested, so I’m all good, right?”
Nope. Many people don’t realize that there isn’t just one test that looks for every kind of STI out there. Actually, there aren’t even tests for some STIs. That’s why it’s important to be in the know.
In general if someone asks for an STI test they will test for chlamydia and gonorrhea and possibly HIV. They will test for chlamydia and gonorrhea through a urine test or swab test and for HIV through a finger prick or cheek swab. They may also test for syphilis with a blood test, though this can be less common. Remember that there are other STIs that wouldn’t be found with these specific tests.
“So how do I know which kind of test I should get?”
It’s important to communicate openly and truthfully with your medical provider so they can help determine what tests are right for you. During your visit they will “screen you” to figure out what to test for. “Screening” means they will ask you questions about your life, your sexual history, and your symptoms. Based on this information they figure out what tests are best for you. (Remember: Some STIs don’t have symptoms.) It is important to be honest with your provider so they can be sure to test you for the right things. Remember, they have heard it all before!
The health care provider should let you know what they recommend for testing. If they do not specify which tests they are running, you can ask them! Make sure you know which tests are being run so you can understand what the results mean. You get to ask questions about anything that is unclear at any time. Don’t be afraid to speak up. That’s part of taking charge of your health.
You have the right to advocate for your health concerns. If there is an STI test that the medical provider doesn’t recommend, but you think is important, you can ask for it specifically! A good provider will discuss your concerns and make a plan that works for you.
“What if I don’t want to talk about my sexual history in front of my parents?”
It is always great to talk to a parent or other trusted adult about your sexual health but it is not required. If you are interested in getting tested for STIs, you can visit the doctor or a clinic near you by yourself. If you are visiting the doctor with a parent or guardian, your doctor should have a few minutes where they ask your parents to leave the room. This is your opportunity to bring up anything that you want to keep private from your parents. If the doctor does not ask your parent or guardian to leave for a few minutes, you can ask for that time yourself. You can consider telling your parent you want to practice visiting the doctor alone. Also, if this private time never happens, you can return on your own to talk about STI testing.
There are also options for some people to get a home STI test. You get a test in the mail, complete it at home, and send it back.
“Why can’t I just get tested for every STI?”
For some STIs, like HPV, there isn’t a good test for all bodies. People with vaginas usually get tested during a PAP smear or annual exam, but there isn’t a good HPV test for people with a penis. For other STIs, like herpes, it is not recommended for everyone to get tested, but you can always ask your doctor if you are interested in a herpes test. The bottom line is that just because someone got an STI test, it doesn’t mean that they’ve been tested for ALL STIs.
“How do I found out my results?”
The clinic may tell you “no news is good news” meaning that if you do not hear from them in two weeks, your results came back negative. They may also call and follow up after your results come back. Either way, it usually takes some time and it is important they have your correct contact information so they can get in touch with you. If you don’t hear from them and are curious, give them a call. Usually you will get your results from a phone call but in some cases you may have an online portal where you can download them.
“How much does it cost?”
STI testing is FREE! It is covered by insurance and if you do not have insurance or do not want to use your insurance because you are worried about your parents finding out, there are programs like FamilyPACT that can help you. Just let the clinic know what your situation is- if you have insurance or not and if you are worried about your services being confidential.
It’s a good idea to do some research before you go to a clinic or see a health professional for an STI test. You can find a lot of information about STIs – like what they are and how to prevent them -- at TeenSource. Then, talk with your provider about your risk for STIs so you can make the best decisions for you. Find a clinic near you.