Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed from one person to the next, and this can occur from having vaginal, anal or oral sex. There are various different types of STIs and if you've recently had unprotected sex, it's important that you get checked out to ensure you are safe and not at risk of passing on any infections to others.
Statistics show that STIs are on the increase, especially in young people aged 16-24 who account for more than half of all newly diagnosed STIs. Often there are no symptoms, however, and this can increase the risk of passing infections on to others, so it's essential to have regular tests and seek treatment where necessary.
An STI test may sound scary but they should be a regular part of your sexual health routine. There's nothing to be embarrassed about and attending a sexual health clinic ensures you're playing it safe and protecting yourself and your partners from the risk of infection.
Upon arriving at a clinic you will be asked to fill in a form if it's your first time, and this will include your name and contact details. You don't have to include your real name or tell staff the name of your GP if you don't want to, but all information is kept confidential anyway. You can also specify that you wish to see a male or female doctor if you want. Simply tell the receptionist of your preference when you book your appointment.
If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can bring someone with you to the appointment. When booking your appointment, you may be advised to avoid passing urine for two hours before your test so that a urine sample can be taken if required.
Depending on the kind of STI test being taken, slightly different protocols are involved. Swab tests may be taken from the genitals and also from the throat or rectum depending on the kind of sex you've had. The clinical professionals who perform these tests are experts so don't worry, you'll be in good hands and they will make the procedure as comfortable for you as possible. The doctor may also need to look at your genitals if necessary and if you feel more reassured seeing a doctor of the same sex, then it's worth asking for that reason.
You will also need to answer questions about your sex life and the doctor or nurse will be able to give you honest advice with regards to your lifestyle and potential treatment. Everything you mention will remain confidential for your own protection.
The STI test is normally sent off to a laboratory for testing and can come back in a few days to a week. It's also possible to have same-day testing to determine if there's a problem. You can even receive your results over the phone or have the results sent to your GP. Many clinics can also text the results directly to your mobile phone or email you if preferred.
The results are highly accurate but some infections such as HIV, syphilis and hepatitis can take longer, up to 3 months, to show up on a blood test. If the results aren't clear then you may need to come back for a repeat test. During this time you should make sure to practice safe sex, using condoms or other barrier contraception, until the test results are returned.
If you receive positive results then a doctor or nurse can give you advice on what to do next, based on your diagnosis. You may be offered counseling or support and in some scenarios you may have to tell your previous partners, depending on the kind of STI you have. Whatever the outcome it's important to know your options and seek support, and there are plenty of organisations out there who can offer advice and treatment for STIs.