For people who are sexually active, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is an important way of looking after our health. The idea of going to the doctor to get tested can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before!
Hopefully this article can answer some questions about what STI testing is, why and when young people should get tested and what to expect if you go to get tested.
What are STIs?
STIs are infections that can be transmitted by having any kind of sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex. Some STIs are caused by bacteria and others are caused by viruses. Some common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, genital warts (HPV) and HIV.
Learn more about STIs here.
Using condoms can reduce the risk of getting an STI. However, condoms don’t provide 100% protection as they can slip or break during sex.
What is STI testing?
STI testing, or screening, is a series of tests doctors can do to see if someone has any STIs. Different kinds of sexually transmitted infections are detected in different ways. Some infections can be detected by blood test. Others may require a sample of urine, or a swab to be taken from where the infection might be, like the vagina, cervix, urethra, anus or throat.
Why should I get tested?
It’s very common for STIs not to cause any symptoms at all. This makes it difficult to know if someone has an STI, making STI testing essential for anyone who is sexually active.
Testing can help because it can help:
- Detect any asymptomatic STIs
- Prevent asymptomatic infections from getting worse
- Prevent the spread of STIs
- Look after your sexual health
Testing is recommended for anyone who has ever been sexually active, even if they don’t think they could have an STI!
Some people are at higher risk of getting STIs and should get regular STI testing. This includes:
- People who have more than one sexual partner
- Men who have sex with men
- People who engage in unprotected sex
What does STI testing involve?
Getting a STI test is as simple as going to your doctor and asking for testing! Your doctor will probably ask a few questions to figure out which tests are most appropriate for you. Then, depending on the test you need you’ll have a blood test, give a urine sample or your doctor might take a swab from your vagina, cervix, urethra, anus or throat.
After this your doctor will give you more instructions on when to return for the results of the tests, this may take up to a couple of weeks.
Tips on asking your doctor for an STI test
Young people can easily feel embarrassed asking their doctor for help with their sexual health but becoming responsible for your body is an important part of growing up and doctors deal with requests like this every day!
Phrases that might help to ask for STI testing include:
- I have a new sexual partner and want to get tested
- I want to be tested for chlamydia
- I want to check I don’t have and STI
Family planning, Pregnancy and STI testing
Many STIs can be passed from mothers to babies and can have serious health consequences. If you are planning on having a child, that is a great opportunity to see a doctor and get you and your partner tested and treated. For women who are already pregnant, STI testing is highly recommended and routinely performed to protect mother and baby.