STD testing involves collecting a sample, typically urine or blood, to determine the presence of an STD. A physician may also take a swab of an area that is presenting symptoms in addition to the blood or urine sample. A lab will then analyze the sample, looking for evidence of the virus or bacteria, to determine if you have an STD.
The frequency of testing depends on your lifestyle and sexual activity. For a breakdown of testing frequency, visit our STD Basics page.
Which test you need may be obvious if you know what you have potentially been exposed to. If you are unsure and are simply wanting to test for your own sexual health knowledge, visit our STD Basics page.
When you receive your results will depend on what test you took and what testing option you chose, whether at-home, private lab, or public testing center. Generally, results are returned to you within as little as 24 hours to as long as 10 days after the lab has received your sample.
No, a pap smear is specifically looking for abnormalities that may indicate cervical cancer. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to specifically have STD testing performed.
Most tests are completely safe to have performed during your period, particularly if they are done via bloodwork. If a urine sample is required, check with your physician or test provider as some labs may be unable to accurately process your sample correctly if menstrual blood is present.
There are several ways you can get an STD test: at home, through a private lab with or without a doctor order, or at a public testing center. For more information on these options, visit our STD Testing Options page.
The cost will depend on what test you choose and the provider you go through. If cost is a concern, visit your local health department’s website to verify the STD testing that is available in your community for low or free testing.
Some of the most common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and HPV. However, others you should routinely test for include syphilis, trichomoniasis, HIV, and hepatitis.
Yes, depending on the STD in question. Any STD that is bacterial or parasitic is possible to catch again after you’ve already been treated. The most common reasons for reinfection include failing to complete treatment, a partner doesn’t get treated, and not practicing safer sex.
Different STDs can result in different complications, but virtually all of them can lead to a life-altering or life-threatening health risk. These range from infertility in both men and women, pelvic inflammatory disease in women and an increased risk of HIV infection to cirrhosis, various forms of cancer, organ damage, and more.
Symptoms will vary depending on the STD you have, but many people go undiagnosed because they present no symptoms at all until the infection becomes more advanced. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms could indicate you have an STD:
- Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Discharge from the penis
- Unusual or odorous vaginal discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Sore and swollen lymph nodes in the groin area, although it may be more widespread
- Lower abdominal pain
- Rash over the trunk of the body, hands, or feet
According to the CDC, “STDs pass from one person to another through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. They also can spread through intimate physical contact like heavy petting, though this is not very common.”
Yes! Any form of intimacy puts you at risk for an STD. You can use protection, such as a condom and/or dental dam to lower the risk, but there could still be potential of contracting an STD with any of these activities.
It is rare, but it is possible. Some people may have been born with HIV which can be passed to others later in life. It’s also possible to contract herpes through casual kissing, even between friends and family, which can then be passed during sexual activity.
Prevention and Treatment FAQs
No! Birth control is not effective against any STD; it is only used as a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. If you are on birth control, you will still want to use another form of protection, such as a condom, to prevent potentially contracting an STD.
There are a few ways you can prevent STDs:
- Practice abstinence. Refraining from any sexual activity – including vaginal, oral, or anal sex – is the only way to completely avoid STDs.
- If you do have sex, use condoms every time. While it doesn’t protect you 100%, they lessen the risk of infection.
- Have fewer sexual partners. Try to remain monogamous with one person – you only have sex with them, they only have sex with you. You should both test to ensure neither of you has an STD, but being knowledgeable of this status and being intimate only with one another is a reliable way to avoid STDs.
- Get an HPV vaccine. HPV is the most common STD, but it is preventable with a vaccine, meaning you can avoid related health issues like genital warts and even some cancers.
- Be open with your partner. Talk about STDs and staying safe together before engaging in sexual activity.
- Get tested. If you are or have been sexually active, it’s important to get tested because even without symptoms, you could still have an STD and unknowingly spread it to others.
While they do help decrease the risk of getting an STD, they are not 100% effective. Some infections are spread from sores on the skin that is not covered by a condom, such as with genital herpes.
It depends on the STD. Certain STDs caused by bacteria are currently curable with antibiotic or antiviral medications including syphilis, gonorrhea*, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. Those caused by a viral infection are incurable, including hepatitis B, herpes, HIV, and HPV. However, certain treatments can help manage symptoms or prevent the infection from worsening over time.
*There is a strain that has become resistant to the long-used antibiotic treatment for gonorrhea, so if symptoms persist after treatment, let your doctor know right away.
First of all, inform your partner before having sex. If you have an STD like herpes, do not have sex during an outbreak when sores or skin breaks are present. For HIV, there are medications you can take to reduce the risk of transmission, otherwise known as antiretroviral therapy (ART).