Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Sexually Transmitted Infections (STD's/STI's) Guide

Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections are any kind of illness which can only be transferred from person to person via sexual contact. Contrary to popular belief, full penetrative intercourse isn’t the only way to catch an STI. Some infections are actually transmissible by any kind of oral-genital or genital-genital contact. Generally speaking however the main way STIs are transmitted is through unprotected sexual intercourse (without a condom or other barrier method of protection).

In this article we look at how STIs are tested for and where you can get these tests done.

How are STIs tested for? 

There are actually a number of different methods by which it is possible to test for sexually transmitted disease. These tests are usually performed either on your request as a patient, or if you report some symptoms which your doctor suspects might be because of an STI. Examples of different types of STI tests include:

  • Physical exam – it may surprise you to hear that one of the quickest and simplest ways of checking for an STD is to get your doctor to perform a physical exam. You might feel embarrassed by this, which is why it’s common practice for patients to request a male or female doctor for such an exam, depending on who you feel most comfortable with. A lot of STIs can be effectively diagnosed through a quick physical exam that looks for telltale rashes or other signs.
  • Blood test – many STIs can be picked up via a simple blood test.
  • Urine test – some conditions like Chlamydia are just a matter of a quick dipstick check of your urine.
  • Pap smear – some kinds of pap smear (where a sample is taken during a pelvic exam) look for causes of STIs or STI causing agents like the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) responsible for genital warts.
  • Penile swabs – involve your doctor getting a sample of penile tissue for an STI test.

Different tests pick up different kinds of conditions, which is why it’s usually important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing. This gives them a chance to determine which is the best course of action for you in terms of getting you tested and treated quickly, effectively and safely.

Where can I get STI tests done?

In the UK you can get STI tests from your GP or from a dedicated sexual health clinic. You can also request tests privately, and there are a number of highly confidential services which test a sample you send them and report back to you with their results.

Getting some advice from your doctor about which kind of test is most suited to your symptoms is usually a good first step if you are concerned about STIs.

Why get tested for a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?

Many people are reluctant to seek testing for a sexually transmitted infection, and while there are many reasons for this, the most common are a fear of the stigma associated with STIs and a belief that you might not need the test. In this article we look at good reasons to request an STI test. Ultimately your testing will be treated with the utmost confidentiality and professionalism, and it is always better to seek a doctor’s opinion rather than leave a potential illness unchecked.

Do I need to have an STI test if I have had unprotected sex?

Generally speaking if you have had unprotected sexual intercourse with a new partner it is advisable to get an STI test if you experience any unusual symptoms. If you want to err on the side of caution, you can request an STI test without any symptoms to be sure.

Unprotected sex refers to any direct sexual contact without the protection offered by barrier methods of contraception. The most commonly used barrier contraceptives are the condom and diaphragm, and these have been shown to vastly reduce the transmission of STDs.

It is important to point out that when we talk about unprotected sex this includes any direct oral contact with genitals as well. Many STIs can be transmitted through oral sex as well, particularly Herpes and Genital Warts.

What kind of symptoms warrant an STI test?

There are a number of different sexually transmitted infections caused by a broad range of different bacteria, fungi, and viruses. As such there are a number of symptoms which can, if you have had unprotected sex, suggest that you are suffering from an STI. The most common symptoms to look out for are unusual rashes or discharges or any pain or stinging sensations (particularly when you urinate).

Starting a relationship and wanting to ensure that you don’t suffer from or transmit an STI

If you are starting a relationship and have had a previous history of sexual activity, you may want to arrange some STI tests just to make sure that you aren’t carrying any STIs. Sometimes the agents responsible for sexually transmitted infections can persist without causing any symptoms. Many people who are establishing a relationship want to ensure their partner’s safety, and this is a surprisingly common reason for pursuing an STI test.

While sexually transmitted diseases/infections (abbreviated to STD or STI) come in many types and guises, there are a battery of standard tests which can be performed to determine whether or not you are suffering from or carrying an STD. Typically you can detect STDs using blood or urine tests or urethral swabs, and this article discusses where you can get these tests from.

Regardless of where you get your tests from you can expect discretion, confidentiality, and sensitivity. Whether a service is private or public it should be able to treat you with the respect and care you deserve when requesting or receiving an STI test.

Getting STI tests on the NHS

STI tests are readily available from the NHS. You can arrange to have an STI test from your GP if you go in and have a chat about your worries, or if you are presenting with any symptoms. You can also seek advice or testing from dedicated sexual health clinics (also referred to as genitourinary (GUM) clinics).

STI testing on the NHS is free and encouraged for some illnesses. If you are sexually active you might have been approached at some point about a Chlamydia screen, this is because Chlamydia is a major concern in the UK at the moment because of its prevalence. It is an illness that remains asymptomatic (doesn’t present with any symptoms) for some time, making it one that is easily transmissible as people often don’t know they are ill.

Getting STI tests privately

STI tests are readily available at a number of private healthcare providers, including a number of online services which offer a discrete and private service. While private testing does have the disadvantage of costing you money, some people prefer the added discretion that comes from a mail order service or consulting a doctor who isn’t your family GP.

If you are looking at receiving an STI test privately you should be careful to make sure that the service provider you are investigating has an established reputation for safe and effective testing. Reviews are often readily available on the internet from a selection of different sources.

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