I Got Tested! Here’s How You Can, Too
Originally Published: April 3, 2017
Revised: January 3, 2019
I’ve been advocating for sexuality education and being safe when it comes to sex for about three years now. The thing is, I didn’t follow my own advice in one area—getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs can be transmitted in many ways, including oral, anal and vaginal sex as well as skin-to-skin contact. My sexual history told me that I should get tested, even though I had never had any symptoms. I know one of the most common symptoms is no symptoms, but I felt a little better being blissfully ignorant about whether or not I had an STD. Looking back, I know that this should not have stopped me.
So, wanting to practice what I preach, I finally decided to get tested. Getting tested is a very important step in being safe in your sexual relationships. Many STDs have symptoms that you might not immediately notice. Sometimes, you might not have any symptoms at all—which is why it’s so important to get tested regularly. Testing is a pretty simple process. Read on to find out how you can be proactive and get tested.
Making the Appointment
The first thing to do is to make an appointment. I contacted my local Planned Parenthood, but your general physician may be able to test you as well. (Check with them.) When it comes to Planned Parenthood, some of their clinics allow for you to make an appointment online while others still require you to do it via a phone call. You can check by going onto the Planned Parenthood website. Planned Parenthood can be a convenient choice for getting tested, but there are often other choices as well. Go to the clinic finder to search for a clinic near you.
Sometimes, you might not have any symptoms at all—which is why it’s so important to get tested regularly.
When you call to make an appointment, they are going to ask what you are coming in for. Tell them that you want to get tested for STDs. If you’re interested in getting tested for a specific one, tell them that, too. They’re going to ask if you have insurance and if so what kind, and then they are going to tell you when there are available appointments. You set it up with them directly. If you don’t have insurance or would prefer not to use your parents’ insurance, when you call to make your appointment, make sure to ask how much the tests will cost. Many clinics will offer services at low or no cost. (In terms of parental permission, the Planned Parenthood website says it is typically not required for STD testing. If you are concerned about this however, it is always a good idea to ask about local laws, as there may be times when certain locations will either require permission from or notify a parent about testing.)
Now, there are some things you need to do before you go for the appointment. I wish I’d known this before because it would have stopped the slight anxiety I had while filling out the paperwork. If you have insurance and want to use it for your visit, write down all of the information beforehand: what kind it is, what your policy number is, what your group number is and when you first started using it. This will make the process of filling out paperwork a lot easier.
To be honest, the worst part of my experience was the paperwork and that’s only because I didn’t know all of the information I needed. If you come prepared, things should move along smoothly.
Awkward but Important
Then comes the whole actually getting tested thing. There are many different ways to get tested for an STD, and it all depends on what you are getting tested for.
You can get tested for a multitude of STDs, including syphilis, herpes, pubic lice and more. When I went, I got tested for gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. These three tests only called for me to give a small blood sample and a small urine sample. Had I gotten tested for something like syphilis, the clinic would have had to take a larger blood sample.
There are four different ways to get tested for STDs:
The health care provider will examine your genitals.
This could be anywhere from a prick on the finger to a larger blood sample drawn with a needle.
This one is pretty straightforward; you urinate (pee) in a cup.
- A sample of discharge, tissue, cell or saliva
The health care provider will take a swab of your mouth, cervix, vaginal fluids or inside the tip of the penis to get a sample that can be examined further.
At the Planned Parenthood I went to, when it was my turn to speak to the on-duty health care provider, I went with her into a small room that looked like a normal room in a doctor’s office. Then she asked me a couple questions before we began.
Here’s the thing, if you learn one thing from this article it is to be 100-percent truthful when answering these questions. It may feel kind of awkward telling an adult about your sexual history, but it is very important to do so. Telling the truth can only help you in this situation. The woman I spoke to was very calm and professional. She didn’t say anything when I mentioned having sex with someone I consider just a friend, and she asked to make sure that I felt safe in that situation. Health care providers are only there to help you, and by learning more about your sexual behaviors, they can figure out what you need to be tested for as well as how to help you treat any STD you may have.
After answering the questions, it was time to get the tests done.
Quick and Easy
First, she did the HIV test, which was not bad at all. All she had to do was prick my finger and collect some blood. It was over quickly. It also processes fast, and by fast, I mean fifteen minutes. So before you leave, you will know the result. (This is if a rapid test is done. Otherwise, it can take a few days to a few weeks to get your results. There is also an oral swab test for HIV that can be done in an office setting and provides quick results.)
The two other tests required me to pee in a cup, which was easy.
After that, I got my HIV results and left. It takes about one to two weeks to hear back about the other results.
I understand that getting tested can be a scary thing; you don’t know for sure what the outcome is going to be. You might be going to a health center that is unfamiliar to you. But I am here to tell you that it is not bad at all. I went alone, but you can always bring a friend if you want. They can get tested too! You can bring your significant other and make a day out of it: get tested and then go out after for food or a movie. (Your friend or significant other will probably have to hang out in the waiting room while you’re in with the health care provider.)
If any of your tests come back positive, the team at your local clinic is there to help you and will give you advice on how to go about treating the STD and ways to further protect yourself. You will not be alone; the people at the clinic are there to be your support team. It’s going to be OK, I promise you.
Getting tested is extremely important and should become a regular part of your health care routine, just like getting your teeth cleaned. If I did it, you can do it.
Good luck and stay safe!
*Gillian is a contributor who attends college in New Jersey.
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