Complete Guide To STD Testing
So a less than stellar decision was made. Maybe by you, maybe by your partner, but either way here you are wondering, debating, justifying if you need to get tested. Or, if you can just let it slide and continue living your life without knowing if you have contracted an STD and potentially spreading it to every intimate encounter you have.
Hopefully through this article you will gain a thorough understanding the potential of having contracted a STD and your testing options. Arming yourself with this sexual health knowledge will serve you and your future sexual partners with confidence in your STD status.
Do You Need a STD Test?
If we are all going to be honest about this question, the answer is probably yes. How else did you end up on this page, reading the complete guide to STD Testing?
All joking aside, determining if you should spend the time, effort and money to get tested takes some serious considerations. In this section we are going to take a look at your STD risk factors and symptoms of STDs to see if you are experiencing any tell-tale or subtle symptoms. Of course in lieu of reading this section, you could use our STD Symptom Checker which covers everything in this section by just answering a few questions.
STD Risk Factors
As the name implies, sexually transmitted diseases are primarily transmitted through sex acts. As a general rule of thumb, if you have not had any type of sex (vaginal, oral or anal), you are not at risk for having contracted a STD. There are two types of factors that come into play when we are looking at the potential of having an sexually transmitted disease: Direct and Demographic.
Direct risk factors are things that you or your partner(s) do or actions they have taken. Direct STD risk factors include:
- Having unprotected sex.
- Having multiple sexual partners.
- Giving or receiving unprotected oral sex.
- Intravenous drug useage.
- Protected sex with a partner that has herpes.
These are the things that most directly relate to your chance of having contracted any sexually transmitted disease. If any of these apply to you or your partner and you have not been tested since you last sexual encounter, it is advised that you get tested before your next rondeaux.
Demographic risks are merely correlations between groups of people where higher incidence rates occur in that particular population. For instances, 15-24 year olds have by far the most cases of chlamydia than any other age group. Men who have sex with men account for 83% of all male syphilis cases. The incidence of all STDs is higher in the Southeast than any other part of the country. These are just a few of the alarming demographic correlations that are present in the CDC data. For a full breakdown visit: http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats/default.htm
Most sexually transmitted infections show no outward signs of being present in your body, they are considered asymptomatic. Because you are not experiencing any symptoms does not mean that you do not need to be tested. If you have any of the direct risk factors you should be tested.
For the purposes of this article we are going to examine the primary symptoms of STDs, for detailed information for each STD, please visit our Symptoms page.
Common STD symptoms in men include:
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Itching at the tip of the penis
- Abnormal discharge from the penis
- Rash on the genitals, around the anus or mouth
- Pain in the testicles
- Sores around the base of the penis
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, achiness, chills)
- No symptoms
Common STD symptoms in women include:
- Burning or itching while urinating
- Itching in the vagina
- Abnormal discharge from vagina
- Rash in the genital area
- Rash around the anus or mouth
- Sores on the labia
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, achiness, chills)
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- No symptoms
Many symptoms of STDs overlap and trying to decipher which you have from symptoms is nearly impossible. A urine or blood sample is almost always required to determine determine which STI you have contracted so appropriate treatment protocol can be administered.
Symptoms of STDs often get mistaken for other things, get dismissed and go untreated, thus spreading the disease. The initial syphilis sore which there are usually only one or, looks a lot like an ingrown hair and usually appears where ingrown hairs are common. The signs of chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis in women are often mistaken for a yeast infection.
Types of STD Testing
There are two ways of getting tested for an STD, at a medical lab or with an at-home kit. Let’s explore each of them in detail.
Medical Lab STD Testing
Medical lab testing is obviously the gold standard when it comes to getting an accurate STD test result. These tests are performed in CLIA-certified labs and only with FDA approved tests. The labs are mandated to be certified. To get tested in a lab you need to have what is known as a lab requisition. A lab requisition is basically a prescription to get your tests performed. We provide lab requisitions for our customers after checkout so all you have to do is show up at your selected lab.
If you visit your doctor’s office, an urgent care or walk-in clinic, they often times will be able to take your sample right there in the office. Many medical providers have daily pick-ups from the lab companies that they work with as a convenience for their patients.
Getting your STD test results from certified lab gives you a great amount of confidence that your results are accurate. It also gives your medical provider the ability to accurately prescribe the correct treatment with an accurate diagnosis.
At Home STD Testing
While at home std test and std test kits do provide a low cost std testing solution, they are by far a perfect solution and face several challenges. Their first challenge is sample accuracy. It is not being collected by a professional. You are trusted to get an accurate sample with just an instruction sheet and your own know how.
The second consideration of at home std testing kits have is delivering an accurate result. Some kits are equipped so you can perform the testing part yourself. Do you trust you to science lab? Then do think you can accurate read the what the results mean just from the instructions? It is a little more complicated than “liquor before beer…” which may or may not be why you are in this predicament in the first place.
Other kits will have you mail in the results which creates two problems in and of itself. Lab specimens need to be kept at a certain temperature to prevent false positives. I like my mailman but I by no means think his is going to keep my urine or blood sample in a climate controlled area, his truck doesn’t even have doors. Assuming the sample is delivered as it needs to be, now think of the delay in getting your results. Mail time, testing time, result interpretation time, notification time. By the time you actually get your results, you could have a major infection or potentially exposed a new partner.
Avoiding the Stigma and Embarrassment
You can think whatever you want to about whether it is a positive thing, if it is unfair, if is is baseless, but the truth is that the second most people learn of you having or potentially having a STD, they start judging you. I’m sure this is a big reason that the “at home std test kits” exist. It is also a big reason people fear going to their doctor when they fear a STD.
Just think about all of the people that you have to talk to when you schedule a doctor’s appointment. First it is the phone receptionist.
Receptionist: “Hi, how can I help you today?”
You: “I need to schedule an appointment for later today?”
Receptionist: “And what do you need to see the doctor about?”
You: “I think I might have chlamydia.”
Receptionist: (Silently judging) “Okay, his first available appointment is tomorrow at 10:30.”
You: (Annoyed you couldn’t get in the same-day you called) “That’s fine, see you tomorrow at 10:30.”
That was just the receptionist. Now you have to have the same conversation with the nurse that comes in before your doctor and then finally you get to talk to the doctor about your symptoms and risk exposure(s).
Paid Versus Free STD Testing
Now that you have decided that it is in your best interest to accurately and confidently know your STD status with a medical lab test, the next decision you have is how to actually get tested. To take charge of your sexual health, two general options are available to you, find a free STD testing location or paying for test with either insurance or just being a cash pay patient.
Free STD Testing
When the HIV/AIDS epidemic was sweeping the nation in the 80s and 90s, government health officials push lawmakers to provide everyone with basic STD screens. This push allowed for free std clinics to pop-up all over the country to provide free STD screening tests, especially for HIV.
As with many government sponsored initiatives, the push was big early but as the program has aged and the AIDS epidemic has been controlled, the funding has been eroding. With the funding drying up, free STD clinics are becoming more and more scarce. As with most government aid programs, in most areas you must qualify via income standards to qualify for the free tests.
What Free STD Testing Includes
Most “free” STD tests only include a screening for HIV. HIV was the focus of the generation for the government funding and remains the poster child for combating STDs even though herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis all out pace HIV in the number of STDs diagnosed every year. Certain counties around the country still provide more comprehensive free STD screening but this is because of local funding has stepped up in those areas.
Concerns With Free Testing
One of the biggest conerns when it comes to utilizing a free clinic for your STD testing is strong possibility that only your HIV screen will be free. Not understanding this could leave you with the impression that you are getting a full std panel but in reality only getting tested for HIV. In this scenario, you could unknowingly be spreading a sexually transmitted disease because you got a negative result, but that result was only for HIV.
A lot of people also do not like the experience of a free clinic. There’s an undeniable stigma when people see you walk into a free clinic. If this could be an issue for you, it might be worth choosing a paid option for your std testing.
Free STD Testing Resources
Find free STD Test locations: https://gettested.cdc.gov/
Planned Parenthood location finder: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center
National Prevention Information Network: https://npin.cdc.gov/fee-information/free-std-testing
Using Insurance for Testing
If you are one of the lucky ones that have a really good health insurance program, you have several options. The obvious choice is to see your primary care physician to get the tests ordered. Every insurance policy insurance policy is different but there are some costs that you should still expect to incur. Your co-pay for the office visit will have to be settled at you doctor’s office. Many policies will require you to meet your deductible before they pay for your lab tests and even after you have met your deductible, you could still be responsible for a percentage of the total testing costs. The bottom line is that before you use insurance for your STD test be sure you know exactly what you will be responsible for paying.
When using insurance there is no assumption of confidentiality or anonymity. The fact that you got tested will go on your insurance record, your results will go on your insurance record all of which can be used against you if you ever need to buy a private health insurance policy.
HSA, FSA for STD Testing
Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Savings Accounts are a way to defer income from your paychecks that avoids taxes and can be used for qualifying health procedures, devices, tests and medicines. To use your HSA or FSA card either the company or the product needs to meet the requirements set forth by card issuing company. Usually this is a designation through the credit card processor but each company does treat their approval differently. We are approved for FSA and HSA payments and they can be used right inside our normal credit card input area on our checkout page. If you have trouble using your FSA or HSA card, first check your balance, then contact your issuing company to see why it is being declined.
When using your FSA or HSA card to pay for STD testing you can expect the to be able to assume the same level of confidentiality as a cash paying customer.
Paying Cash for Testing
Paying cash for your STD test give you the most flexibility, the most options and the most power through the STD testing process. Using cash or cash equivalent (credit or debit cards) means that you can avoid the necessity to report to any insurance company, you can avoid it being recorded on your medical record.
But it is vitally important to remember that most medical lab testing companies do not accept payments directly from consumers. They do not even have cash registers or any point of sale system. A lab requisition is required and thus the billing usually goes through the ordering company.
When you order your STD test through us, you pay just the one upfront fee. We then provide you the necessary lab requisition that you give to the lab and we pay the lab directly for the tests performed. The actual cost of the test performed are the reason for the varying prices in our individual test.
Confidential, Private or Anonymous
While looking at your options for STD testing, you will find companies that are taunting “confidential”, “private” or “anonymous” as a way to get your attention and win your business. While these might all seem like synonyms, there are important distinctions to be made.
Confidential STD Testing
Confiedential STD testing means that only you know that you have been tested. No one else is notified of the test and only certain positive results are reported to the CDC. These positive results are mandated to be reported so the CDC can track incidence rates across locations and demographics. Most of these reporting requirements means do not require the distribution of your name. Confidential STD testing is the method keeps the most of your STD information safe from other eyes and out of databases.
Private STD Testing
All STD testing should be private. This is governed by the HIPPA laws protecting your privacy of your medical record. However, private STD testing does not mean that other companies or organizations involved in tests can not compile the information about you. This means that if you use insurance, your insurance company can use the data to compile a profile on you. All the same positive result reporting is still in place plus many times “private” STD testing will report more information about you with your results than a confidential test would. A private test still is recorded on your medical record so if you have allowed someone else to communicate about your health records, they can ask for this information as well.
Anonymous STD Testing
Completely anonymous std testing does not exist in America. At least not legally. Anonymous STD test means that there will be no record of anything no matter the result. With the reporting requirements of the CDC certain positive tests have to be reported. The only way to have a completely anonymous std test is to not have a positive result. This scenario is what “confidential std testing” accomplishes.
So How Much Does STD Testing Cost?
The cost of getting a STD test will vary based on if you are using insurance or using a cash pay testing service. As we outlined above, the cost of using your insurance for STD testing will incur a co-pay for the doctor office visit and what ever you are responsible for for the lab testing. IT is important to realize that when going through your doctor’s office you will be paying a highly marked up lab fees because they want to make money on top of what the lab is already making.
Using a cash pay provider makes your cost much clearer. For example our pricing is an “all-in” fee. This means that we provide the lab requisition (avoid the doctor’s office) and pay the lab for your tests. You pay one fee upfront. OUr pricing is very competitive in the market with individual tests ranging from $49-$119. However most people choose (and it is recommended) a panel std test. Our STD panel cost between $169-$349 depending on the tests included in the panel.
The Process of STD Testing
The process of medical lab STD testing is pretty straightforward.
- Obtain a lab requisition. A medical provider (Dr., PA or NP) must provide the necessary ordering information for the lab so they know what to test for and what samples are required.
- Provide your sample. Go to the lab, and they will get the necessary blood and/or urine sample for the tests that you need. Some labs will require an appointment, but all of our labs are walk-in ready provided you bring your lab requisition.
- Get your results. ONce the lab has your sample(s) they will begin the process of testing for the specific STIs that were ordered. Most results are returned in 3 business days.
Testing for Bacterial STIs
The most common bacterial sexually transmitted infections are chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis. These STIs are screened for with a simple urine culture. You provide a urine sample and the lab tests to see if that particular bacteria is present in your urine, indicating the presence of an active infection.
In some advanced cases or if your doctor want to teach you a lesson they might use a urethral swab. Swab tests are generally used if an initial urine test is inconclusive or if the infection is presenting outside of the primary sex tract. Cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have been seen in the anal cavity as well as persisting in the oral cavity. In these cases a swab is required.
Testing for Viral STIs
Viral STIs include HIV, herpes and hepatitis. Because virus move through the bloodstream and they are not able to be cultured, a blood sample is required to test for their presence. These test use one of two methods to detect the presence of the virus, either through looking for our immune response (antibodies) to virus or looking for the virus RNA itself. RNA tests can detect a infection much sooner than an antibody test because for the antibody test to come back positive, your body must already be trying to active combat the virus.
Same Day STD Testing
Time is always of the essence when you are struggling with the situation of potentially having contracted a STD. Many people look for places where they can get tested the very same day to get their results as quickly as possible. We offer same day STD testing. Once you place your order, you will immediately be able to download your lab requisition and take it to your selected location. You can actually order in the parking lot and show them the requisition on your phone.
Almost all testing places have the ability to offer you same day STD testing. Your only hiccup might be if you are using insurance and need to get an approval from your insurance company for the test although this is highly unlikely.
Testing Results Timeline
Again, waiting on potentially bad news can make days feel like decades. Getting your results quickly almost feels as important as getting the most accurate results. Several factors will determine your timeline to getting your STD test results delivered to you.
The tests your you ordered is the biggest determining factor. Simple bacterial cultures can usually be completed in just one day while tests for viruses can take a little longer because they often are not done at the lab draw location but rather at a regional lab. This creates a slightly longer result process for the travel time of your specimen.
Expected result times from the tests that we offer is 1-3 business days. Getting tested just before the lab closes and right before a holiday can delay your results slightly. Lab technicians do not generally work 24/7/365.
When to Tell Your Partner(s)
This is when you get that pit in your stomach, when you start to realize that you should do the responsible thing and notify your partner(s) about a potential exposure. You should inform your partners of the fact that you are being tested. If a positive result does occur, they should be aware as soon as possible to avoid potentially spreading the STD. While it is an uncomfortable subject to breach, having the adult conversation is in the best interest of you, your partners and any of their partners.
If you do get a positive STD result, you absolutely must notify your partner(s). In fact, in your doctor’s office they will ask about your sexual partners and if you give them the information, they are required to notify them of potential exposure.
The best course of action is to tell your partner(s) that you are being tested. Then once you get your results, follow-up with them about the outcome. Full transparency is the best practice.
Importance of Routine STD Testing
Routine STD testing is recommended for the sexually active population. Basic guideline for routine STD testing is:
- All adults and adolescents from ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV.
- Annual chlamydia screening of all sexually active women younger than 25 years, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection
- Annual gonorrhea screening for all sexually active women younger than 25 years, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.
- Syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, and hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, and gonorrhea screening for at-risk pregnant women starting early in pregnancy, with repeat testing as needed, to protect the health of mothers and their infants.
- Screening at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea for all sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM who have multiple or anonymous partners should be screened more frequently for STDs (i.e., at 3-to-6 month intervals).
- Anyone who has unsafe sex or shares injection drug equipment should get tested for HIV at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).
If you have read this article completely through, you are obviously looking for answers. Answers about your exposure risk, answers about how to get a STD test, answers about the process in general. To sum it all up, getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases is pretty easy. Select the test that you want, select your lab location, place your order, print your lab requisition, go to the lab, get your results. The worry does not go away until you know your status. You will always have the subconscious thought until your can see a negative result. Be safe for yourself, be safe for your future partners, take control of your sexual health, get tested today. Start by choosing the STD test that is right for you.