Sexually transmitted Infections (STIs) are any kind of bacterial or viral infection that can be passed on through unprotected sexual contact. They can have a number of signs and symptoms however some STIs have no symptoms, and if left untreated can lead to infertility.
If you are worried that you might have a STI, you can get free advice and testing from Brook clinics, sexual health services (or GUM clinics), young people’s services, your GP or free online STI kits.
Contraception and sexual health services are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you’re at serious risk of immediate harm.
If you have a test in a clinic, the doctor or nurse will discuss with you what tests they think you will need and these tests will probably depend on how you answer some questions about your medical and sexual health.
These questions will include:
It is recommended that you answer these questions as honestly as possible so you can get the help and advice you need. There’s no need to be embarrassed; the people who work in sexual health clinics have seen and heard it all.
The STI tests might involve:
These tests and examinations are nothing to worry about and the doctor or nurse will help you to feel comfortable.
The swab looks like a small cotton bud which is inserted into the vagina or wiped over the tip of the penis. Very often you can take the swab from inside the vagina yourself. If you have had oral or anal sex then a swab may also be taken from either your throat or rectum. Taking the swab may be slightly uncomfortable but should not be painful.
A urine sample involves weeing into a small pot which your healthcare provider will give you. You can collect the urine sample at any time of day (unless you are advised otherwise) and you will also be told if the sample needs to be the first part of the urine sample or a ‘mid stream’ sample. You will also need to wash your hands before and after taking the urine sample.
A sample of blood is taken from your arm and sent off to a laboratory to be tested. You are usually sitting down and a tight band called a tourniquet is put around your upper arm to make it easier to take the sample of blood. They will ensure that the skin is clean and a needle attached to a syringe will be inserted into the vein. This isn’t usually painful and you may feel a slight pricking sensation as the needle goes in. If you are worried or feel faint tell the health professional as they can help to make you feel more comfortable. After the needle has been removed they will apply pressure for a few minutes and a plaster/cotton wool pad will be left on. Some services can also test for some STIs via a finger prick blood test which can give results on the same day.
When you visit the clinic you will discuss which tests you will require with the doctor or nurse. Here is an overview of which tests are commonly used to diagnose each type of STI:
Some sexual health services can do a test which produces the results during the appointment time (this is called ‘point of care testing’). Or they make take a swab and then look at the sample under a microscope in order to diagnose it during your visit. Otherwise the swab may be sent away to a lab, in which case the results normally take a week to come back.
Most STIs can be easily treated with antibiotics. If you test positive for any STI, your clinic will encourage you to talk to your current partner and sometimes to your previous partners so they can be tested as well. The clinic will help you find the best way to talk to other people if you need to, and can notify even contact them for you through ‘partner notification’ and not even mention your name.
STIs can be treated as below:
Most antibiotics are safe to use with hormonal contraception (like the pill, patch, injection or implant) but talk to the person prescribing the treatment to make sure.
You should tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be, or if you are breastfeeding. This will affect the type of antibiotic you are given.
Side effects of antibiotics are usually very mild but may include stomach ache, diarrhoea, feeling sick and thrush.
DON'T PASS IT ON: You should also avoid having sex until you have been given the all-clear, to prevent you being re-infected or passing the infection on.
For many people, whether it’s your first time or not, visiting a sexual health clinic can cause a bit of anxiety. It may ease your worry if you know that:
When you go to get an STI test you can either make an appointment or attend a drop in service. For some drop in services you may need to wait a while.
At the clinic you will be asked your name and contact details – your GP will not be told about your visit unless you have given your permission, and your visit will be confidential unless they think you are at serious risk of immediate harm.
During your consultation the doctor or nurse will ask you some questions about your sexual history including when you last had sex and whether you have had unprotected sex. They will then talk you through the test.
You will be asked how you would like to receive your results, this can be via phone, text message or unmarked post. Depending on the type of test you have, some results are available straight away and you may be given treatment to take away with you on the day, but others will need to be sent away to a laboratory and you will usually be contacted in one-two weeks.
If you test positive for an STI you will be asked to come back to the clinic to talk to discuss treatment. The clinic can also notify your previous sexual partners through ‘partner notification’ if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself.