What Does It Mean to Get an STD Test?
Originally Published: June 16, 2014
Revised: June 16, 2014
In the fall 2013 issue of Sex, Etc., I wrote about getting tested for a few out of the many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) out there. It can be difficult to know which STDs to be tested for. To make sure you get the STD tests you need, pretend your health care provider is your secret diary and tell him or her all your sexual behaviors. This way, your health care provider can test you for the STDs that you may be most at risk for.
An STD test requires a health care provider to take a sample to test. This could be a blood or urine sample, or a sample taken from cells in your mouth, vagina or the tip of your penis. Some tests require a healthy care provider to take a look at your genitals. Having someone looking at your genitals can be pretty uncomfortable, but it’s over fairly quickly. And you’ll definitely feel better afterwards, knowing you’ll know your STD status. Read on to learn about some different STD tests.
To make sure you get the STD tests you need, pretend your health care provider is your secret diary and tell him or her all your sexual behaviors.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there are many different strains of the virus and different tests depending on your sex and what strain you are being tested for.
For example, a Pap test is where a swab is taken of a girl or woman’s cervix (the lower part of the uterus that can be reached through the vagina) to test for HPV strains, some of which can potentially lead to cancer. This test is different from having a health care provider look at a guy or girl’s genitals to inspect for genital warts, which are also caused by a strain of HPV. And even after visually checking for warts, a person could still have a form of the virus that causes genital warts since HPV can be inactive in the body.
Herpes, a common STD caused by two different viruses, can appear with or without symptoms. Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) is the typical cause of oral herpes or cold sores on the mouth, while herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) is the typical cause of genital herpes. It is important to tell your health care provider what sexual behaviors you engaged in since herpes can be transmitted through kissing, oral sex and genital-to-genital skin contact. To make matters even more confusing, it’s possible to have HSV-1 on the genitals and to have HSV-2 on the mouth. Even if no sores are present, a blood test can be used to test for the viruses. If there are sores present, your doctor will visually inspect them and take a sample from the sores to test them.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are bacterial STDs that often have no symptoms. They are usually tested together and in the same way, either by a urine sample or a swab of the genitals—both quick and easy!
Trichomoniasis or trich is a parasitic STD that many people are unaware of. It can be difficult to detect, particularly more so in guys than girls, since girls are more likely to have symptoms from it, including a genital discharge and/or odor. To test for it, your health care provider can swab the infected area and send it to a lab for analysis.
HIV testing can either be done through a blood test or a rapid HIV test, which is just a swab of your cheek. It’s called “rapid” because you find out your results within 20 minutes! What’s important to note about HIV testing is that you cannot be tested for it immediately after possible transmission. You have to wait weeks for the virus to build up to levels that can be detected by the test and then go back for a second test a few weeks later to be sure.
Where to Get Tested
Visit the Sexetc.org Action Center to use our clinic finder. STD testing and its cost can vary between different locations. So my advice to you is to call beforehand so you know what the cost is and what STD tests are offered by the clinic or health care provider closest to you.
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