STI Testing (STD Testing)

STI testing (STD testing) refers to many different tests you get at a healthcare provider’s office or clinic to find out if you have a sexually transmitted infection. At-home STI testing is also an option. Testing involves giving samples of blood, urine or other bodily fluids. It’s quick, painless and an important way to take care of yourself.


What is STI testing (STD testing)?

STI testing (STD testing) tells you if you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). STIs, formerly called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are contagious conditions that spread through sexual activity. An STI may cause symptoms like burning or itching in your genital area. But other times, STIs have no symptoms. So, there’s often no way to know you have an STI unless you get tested.

Knowing you have an STI is important because you can then:

  1. Get treatment as soon as possible. Timely treatment improves your chances of recovering and avoiding long-term issues. STIs can lead to serious complications like vision loss, organ damage and infertility. In some cases, STIs can be deadly.
  2. Protect your sexual partners. If you know you have an STI, you can take steps to lower the risk of spreading it to others. You can also tell your partners if you test positive for any STIs so they can seek testing and treatment.
  3. Take steps for a healthy pregnancy. An untreated STI during pregnancy poses many health risks for both you and the developing fetus. If you test positive, your healthcare provider will discuss treatment options to lower these risks.

Do I need STI testing?

You may need STI testing if you:

  • Are sexually active.
  • Have symptoms of an STI.
  • Have a sexual partner with an STI.
  • Are pregnant (to help prevent complications for you and the fetus).

A healthcare provider is the best person to tell you whether you need STI testing and when. They understand what puts people at risk for STIs and when testing should be done.

But here’s the thing: It may be up to you to start that conversation. STI testing typically isn’t part of your routine medical checkups. If you’re at all sexually active, it’s important to bring up the topic of STI testing to your provider.

Remember that your provider will keep this information confidential, and their purpose is to help you. Your provider will talk to you about:

  1. The types of sexual contact you’ve had.
  2. Your use of protection.
  3. How many people you’ve had sexual contact with.
  4. Any history of STIs in you or your partners.
  5. Any symptoms you’ve noticed.

Based on this open and honest conversation, your provider will advise you on STI testing. In some cases, they may recommend you get STI screenings.


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Test Details

How does STI testing (STD testing) work?

STI testing involves taking a sample of bodily fluid to check it for signs of infection. STI testing isn’t a single test. Instead, it’s a group of tests that check for different STIs. Your healthcare provider will tell you which tests you need and why. Here are the most common forms of STI testing:

  • Blood test. Your provider removes a small sample of blood from a vein in your arm. Or, they may prick your finger instead.
  • Urine test. You’ll be given privacy to pee into a cup.
  • Oral swab. You or your provider uses a swab to remove saliva from your mouth or throat.
  • Genital or rectal swab. Your provider uses a swab to collect a sample of discharge or cells from your genital area (such as your vagina or penis) or rectum. They’ll also use a swab to collect fluid from any blisters or sores you may have.
  • Physical exam. Your provider looks for signs of STIs, including sores or rashes. Not all STIs show visible signs, but looking for these signs is an important part of diagnosing STIs.

STI testing shouldn’t hurt. It’s usually quick and relatively painless. But it’s common to feel uneasy with a provider examining areas you consider private. Your provider will ask your permission to look at or touch your body, and they’ll help you feel as comfortable as possible.

How do I prepare for STI testing?

Your healthcare provider will let you know if you need to do anything to prepare for STI testing. In general, blood tests don’t require any preparation. You may need to avoid using vaginal creams or douches prior to a urine test or swab test.

Keep in mind that you might need to prepare yourself mentally. STI testing can be worrisome and emotionally draining. If possible, talk to a trusted friend or family member about how you’re feeling. It may also help to talk to a mental health professional, like a counselor. They can help you feel ready for testing and also help you process emotions that come up when learning the results.

What to expect during an STI test

What happens during STI testing depends on the STIs you’re testing for.

  • Genital swab.
  • Urine test.
  • Rectal and/or throat swab (if you have a history of anal or oral sex).
Genital herpes
  • Physical exam.
  • Genital swab.
  • Blood test (to show if you’ve been exposed to the virus but don’t have an active infection).
Genital warts
  • Physical exam.
  • Genital swab.
  • Urine test.
  • Rectal and/or throat swab (if you have a history of anal or oral sex).
Hepatitis B and C
  • Blood test.
  • Blood test.
  • Oral swab.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Blood test.
  • Genital swab.
  • Physical exam.
  • Urine test.
  • Genital swab.

What to expect after an STI test

Your provider will tell you when you can expect results and schedule any follow-up appointments as needed.


Results and Follow-Up

What should I know about STI test results?

STI test results will tell you whether or not you have certain STIs. A positive result means you have the STI in question. A negative result means you don’t have the STI.

However, it’s important to know that some STIs don’t show up right away after exposure to someone with an infection. You may need to test again in a few weeks or months to know for sure. Your provider can guide you on the most appropriate timing for repeat STI testing.

When should I know STD test results?

It depends on the test. Sometimes, your provider will tell you right away during your physical exam. Other times, you may need to wait several days or weeks. Rapid testing for HIV, available in some clinics, produces results in around 20 minutes.

If it’s been a while and you haven’t heard the results yet, follow up with your provider. You should always receive results, even if you test negative. Don’t assume you tested negative if you don’t hear anything.

If I test positive for an STI, what happens next?

If you test positive for an STI, your provider will tell you the next steps. They’ll recommend treatment according to the specific STI you have. It’s important to complete your course of treatment exactly as prescribed. Treatment cures STIs in some cases. But even if it can’t cure the STI, treatment can help manage your symptoms and lower the chances of spreading the infection to others.

Your provider may also order additional tests to check for other STIs or look for signs of complications. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to do and which tests you need. Be sure to follow their guidance closely and ask if anything is unclear.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You have questions about whether you need STI testing.
  • At at-home STI test shows a positive result.
  • You have questions about your treatment plan.


Additional Common Questions

Why is STI testing important?

Think of STI testing just like any other test you’d get at a doctor’s office or clinic. It’s a routine part of healthcare, and it’s important for your health. Learning whether you need STI testing can help you take an active role in your care. This knowledge can also help you have conversations with your healthcare provider about what’s right in your unique situation.

When do I need STI screenings?

A screening is an STI test that you get simply because it’s possible you could have an STI — even if you feel fine. It’s like getting a mammogram or colonoscopy. These routine tests help identify certain conditions even when you have no symptoms.

Similarly, STI screenings can detect STIs you’d otherwise be unaware of. And they allow you to start treatment as soon as possible to prevent complications and transmission to others.

The STI screenings you need and when you should have them depend on many factors, including:

  1. Your age. Research shows half of all STI diagnoses happen in people between the ages of 15 and 24. But people age 25 and up often need screenings, too.
  2. Your sex assigned at birth. People assigned female at birth (AFAB) have unique risks compared to people assigned male at birth (AMAB).
  3. The nature of your sexual relationships. People with multiple sexual partners or those who don’t regularly use protection during sexual activity face a higher risk of some STIs. Men who have sex with men (MSM), or people AMAB who have sex with people AMAB, face unique risks compared to some other groups.

The lists below explain screening guidelines for some common STIs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All people between ages 13 and 64:

  • HIV (at least once).

People AFAB under age 25 who are sexually active:

People AFAB age 25 and older who have a new sexual partner, multiple partners or a partner with an STI:

Pregnant people:

  • Syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C (early in pregnancy and possibly multiple times).
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea if at risk for infection (early in pregnancy).

People AMAB who have sex with people AMAB:

  • Syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea (at least once a year, or every three to six months if you have multiple sexual partners).
  • HIV (at least once a year, possibly as often as every three to six months).
  • Hepatitis C (at least once a year if you have HIV).

People who have risk factors for HIV, such as having sex without using a condom or sharing needles to inject drugs:

  • HIV (at least once a year).

These aren’t exhaustive lists. You should check with your healthcare provider about which STI screenings you need. They’ll tailor advice to your needs. They’ll also help you learn your risk factors for different STIs and how to lower your risk.

Can I do an at-home STD test?

Yes. You can buy at-home STI testing kits through local health clinics and pharmacies. Some kits test for one STI, while others test for more than one.

The kit will come with instructions on how to do the testing yourself at home. Follow these closely and call a healthcare provider if you have questions. You’ll typically collect samples (for example, samples of blood, pee or other bodily fluids) and then mail them to a lab according to the kit’s instructions.

At-home STI tests are convenient, private and safe. They also provide accurate results. But some people would rather go to a healthcare provider for testing. It’s up to you and what you feel most comfortable doing. 

Where can I find STD testing near me?

Your healthcare provider can test for STIs in their office. But if you don’t have a usual provider or aren’t comfortable talking to your provider about STI testing, other options are available. You can search online for community health clinics near you that offer STI testing. Such testing is confidential and may be free or low-cost.

How can I start a conversation with my partner about STI testing?

If you’re in a new relationship, you might feel nervous bringing up the topic of STI testing. You may also feel this way if you’ve been with someone a while but the topic hasn’t come up yet. No matter where you’re at in a relationship, but ideally when you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to talk with your partner about the topic.

You might want to mention the importance of being open with each other about many things, including your:

  • Sexual history.
  • Sexual health.
  • Risk factors for STIs.
  • Use of protection and ways to stay healthy together.

Tell your partner that STI testing is one way to care for each other and respect each other’s well-being.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Tests are often stressful no matter what they’re for. When they’re to find out if you have STIs, you might worry: What will the results be? What does this mean for my current or future relationships? How will I tell my partner if I test positive?

Take things one step at a time. First, recognize the times when you need testing, and don’t wait to get it done. Healthcare providers are prepared to help you get the treatment you need. STI testing is a routine part of healthcare that providers see day in and day out.

STIs are very common, and when caught early, they’re often very treatable. It’s also important to share positive test results with your sexual partner(s) so they’re aware of their risk and can get tested, too.

Take the time to learn more about STI testing and how it can help you stay healthy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 12/01/2023.

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