Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be contracted through having unprotected sex (i.e. sex without a condom) with another infected person. While they are usually fairly easy to treat, some STIs, such as chlamydia, can be difficult to detect as most people don’t display any symptoms. For this reason, it can be a good idea to be tested regularly for STIs, particularly if you have had multiple sexual partners within a relatively short time frame. Getting tested is easy, and the infection could be picked up much faster.
Where can I get an STI test?
If you’re concerned that you might have an STI, there are a few options when it comes to getting a test. Below, you can find more information around getting tested at a sexual health clinic, visiting a GP or using a home test kit.
At a sexual health (GUM) clinic
Sexual health clinics, also known as GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinics are likely the best place to start. Such clinics specialise in sexual health and so are perfectly placed to provide you with testing and treatment options.
For some clinics, you will need to make an appointment, whereas others are walk-in. If you’re unsure, you can phone the clinic ahead of time to see whether you need to have an appointment.
During your initial appointment, a doctor or nurse might ask what your concerns are, and will probably need additional information, such as your sexual history and a brief medical history. They may ask when you last had unprotected sex, if you have any symptoms of an STI and whether you’ve had an STI before. If you don’t know all of this information, however, they can still help you. For reference, your symptoms could include unusual discharge, pain when weeing or having sex or bleeding between periods.
Based on your answers, the medical professional will advise you on the test or tests they think you should have. Depending on what you’re being tested for, you might be required to provide a urine sample, a blood sample or a genital swab. Sometimes, they may also need to examine you to look for physical symptoms.
A chlamydia or gonorrhoea test can be done with a genital swab or urine sample, whereas testing for HIV or syphilis might require a blood sample. If you think you have herpes, a swab might be taken of a sore.
Depending on the type of test you’ve taken, the results might be instantaneous, meaning you can be provided with treatment on the same day. Some tests take longer and so you may be given the results via text message within a few days.
Through a GP
A GP can provide some STI testing, but they may not be able to offer tests for all the STIs a sexual health clinic can. If they can’t perform the test themselves, they may refer you to a local sexual health clinic.
With a home test kit
There are some home testing kits available that can test for STIs such as HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. If you’re embarrassed about seeing a GP or visiting a sexual health clinic, this can be a good option.
Once you’ve purchased a kit for yourself online or from the pharmacy, you can wait for it to arrive in the post (it usually takes up to five working days to arrive). You can then follow the instructions that come with the kit to perform your STI test from the comfort of your own home. The test usually involves swabbing your vagina or providing a urine sample, and the method specified in the instructions may vary depending on the type of STI you’re being tested for. In some cases, you may be asked to provide blood by performing a finger-prick test.
A return label will be included with the kit so you can send your samples back to the lab to be analysed. Your results are usually provided within seven days and you’ll receive them by text message. Should the results be positive, you will be contacted by the kit provider to arrange further treatment. Alternatively, you can speak to your GP or visit a sexual health clinic for treatment advice.
How to book an appointment for an STI test
To get tested at a sexual health clinic, you may need to book an appointment or you might be able to just walk in. If you’re unsure whether you need to book, you should phone your local clinic to ask, and make an appointment if it’s needed.
If you wish to speak to a GP about STIs, you will need to book an appointment. This will likely involve phoning your local surgery during their opening hours to choose a time. You may be given a telephone consultation first, which may be followed by a face-to-face consultation if the surgery feels it is appropriate.
Should you wish to purchase an online kit instead, this can be done at any time, provided you are aged 15 or above.
How quickly do STI results come back?
Once you’ve had your test, whether this be at a sexual health clinic, with a GP or via a home testing kit, you should get your results within two weeks. For some tests, you can get the results and the treatment the same day.
If you’ve completed a home testing kit, the results should arrive within around seven days of the lab receiving your samples.
To protect yourself from STIs, it’s a good idea to use barrier contraceptives even if you’re on a hormonal contraceptive. Hormonal contraceptives, such as the progestogen-only pill, prevent pregnancy but don’t stop you from contracting an STI.