Let's Talk About Safe Sex

By: David Hines

February 8, 2023

How Does STD Testing Work?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — spread through bodily fluids and skin-to-skin contact. If you experience pain around your genitals or irritated skin after sex, doctors can assess your risk factors for STDs and administer a screening to determine a diagnosis.

Still, you may wonder, “How does STD testing work?” During your appointment, you can expect:

  • A brief consultation with a certified physician discussing your recent sexual activity
  • A physical examination of your skin, mouth, and genitals
  • Simple urine tests, blood tests, and or cheek swabs to identify harmful viruses and bacteria
  • A formal diagnosis in writing
  • Treatment plan recommendations

Your first visit to the clinic may seem intimidating if you are new to STD testing, but regular screenings are quick, non-invasive, and part of staying healthy. This article will help you understand what to expect during your next STD test and why regular appointments are crucial for your sexual health. 

Which STD Test Do I Need?

No single STD test can screen for every disease simultaneously. At the clinic, you’ll meet with a doctor or staff member who can help determine which tests you need based on factors like:

  • Your symptoms
  • Your or your partner’s previous STD history
  • How many partners you’ve been with
  • The type of sexual contact you’ve had
  • Whether you used protection

Your doctor may recommend chlamydia and gonorrhea tests if you are a cis woman under 25, a man who has sex with men, or a transgender woman who recently engaged in sexual intercourse with a man. They may also test you for HIV and hepatitis if you are gay or use intravenous drugs.

Most doctors recommend genital herpes screenings during each appointment, especially if you are experiencing unusual itchiness, redness, or soreness on your skin several days after sex.

Receiving your blood sample results from the lab could take several weeks with conventional STD screening. A rapid STD test from a screening center like Rapid STD Testing can deliver results within 24 to 48 hours. Fast screenings allow your doctor to prescribe medicine quickly and recommend a treatment plan before your symptoms escalate.

It may be worth scheduling a 10-panel STD test to check for ten different STDs in one simple test. These comprehensive exams check for the most common STDs, including chlamydia, hepatitis B and C, HIV, herpes type 1 and 2, and syphilis. 

How Do At-Home STD Test Kits Work?

At-home STD testing kits may be helpful if you are anxious about visiting your local clinic in person. These painless oral soft swab tests usually screen for STDs like HIV and chlamydia. However, accidental misuse or contamination of the swab can prevent at-home from providing accurate results. Visiting a testing center may seem overwhelming, but you get fast, confidential, and accurate results and immediately meet with a doctor to discuss treatment.

What Happens During an STD Test?

Now that you know your options, you may wonder, “How does STD testing work once I arrive for an appointment?” Clinicians administer different methods to collect samples depending on the type of screening you request.

During gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV screenings, you will meet with your doctor and review your medical history. Expect them to ask you questions about your sexual activity that may feel personal. For instance, your doctor may ask if you have engaged in oral or anal sex in the past few months.

Be honest, and remember you’re in a judgment-free zone where your health is the most important thing. These questions help your doctor examine the affected area and rule out other conditions. Your doctor will keep your information confidential and use it only to recommend treatment options.

How are STD tests taken? After your initial consultation, your doctor may take: 

  • A cheek swab
  • A urine sample
  • A blood draw
  • A sample of fluid from warts or rashes

These samples go to a lab to test for harmful virus strains and bacteria. 

Your doctor may suggest that you refrain from sexual activity while you wait for your results. STD testing from blood is effective but does not always provide instant results. STDs like HIV have an incubation period of up to four weeks – meaning it could take longer for the lab to detect these infections than others.

Are STD Tests Different for Men and Women?

If you are male, it is unlikely that your primary care physician will include an STD test as part of your routine physical exam, and you will need to schedule a separate screening. But how does STD testing work for men compared to women?

Women often do not show symptoms of STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, so doctors schedule screenings for women even if they don’t report symptoms.

Whether you seek screenings as a male or female, your doctor will administer similar tests: They will collect urine samples, ask about your recent sexual partners, and prescribe antibiotics after delivering a diagnosis. Depending on your anatomy, the doctor may swab the tip of your penis or inside your cervix to collect potentially infected cells. 

Your doctor may not recommend routine HPV testing if you are male unless you exhibit related symptoms. If you are female, your gynecologist can screen for cervical cancer cells and HPV infections during your routine pelvic exam. Most doctors also recommend prenatal STD screenings for pregnant women.

Do I Really Need To Get Tested?

The CDC recommends annual HIV testing for people between 13 and 64 years old. The CDC urges men and transgender women to schedule annual screenings for STDs like gonorrhea and syphilis. If you are male and have sexual contact with other men, it’s best to schedule an HIV test two or three times a year.

If you are sexually active, it’s a good idea to screen for herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, every few months. 

Routine testing is still important if you only have one sexual partner. In some cases, people catch STDs if their monogamous partner engages in sex with someone outside their partner’s knowledge. 

You should also test at a screening facility like Rapid STD Testing at least twice a year if you are gay or bisexual. In the past decade, the CDC reported a concerning rise in STD rates among the LGBTQ community – particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea infections.

You can still catch an STD if you use protection, such as condoms or dental dams, during sex. Condoms may reduce your risk of catching an STD, but you are still vulnerable to viruses and bacteria that spread through saliva or skin-to-skin contact.

When Should I Get Tested for STDs?

When asking, “How does STD testing work?” you may also wonder when you should schedule a screening.

STD symptoms may vary depending on the virus or bacteria, the severity of the infection, and how long it has been present in your body. Schedule your STD test immediately if you notice the following:

  • Frequent vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Itchiness or soreness around your genitals or mouth
  • Pain during sex
  • Warts, lumps, or rashes developing around your genitals or mouth

Speaking with Your Doctor About STD Testing

Be honest with your doctor when discussing your sexual health. The questions they may ask could trigger stress or embarrassment, but the information you provide will help them administer the best treatment plan for your condition. 

Dealing with a Positive Result

As you prepare for STD test results to arrive over the phone or online, it’s important to remember that you can still live a healthy and functional life with a positive result. In fact, doctors can even cure some STDs – such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis – with the proper treatment, which can be as easy as taking an antibiotic for a few weeks.

It may be difficult to admit you have an STD to your sexual partners. Still, this honesty and courtesy lowers the risk of infection in your community and encourages your partners to seek their own tests before potential symptoms escalate. 

Even if your test comes back positive, you can still have a healthy sex life. Your doctor can discuss ways to continue having sex safely.

You have access to a wide variety of STD treatment options. Antibiotic and antiviral drugs are the most common treatment solution for those with mild to moderate infections. Doctors can even help manage incurable STDs – such as AIDS and HIV – using antiretroviral therapy.

You don’t need to feel shame or embarrassment when treating an STD. The latest CDC estimates suggest that millions of men and women in the United States live with these conditions. Doctors continue to research and develop new ways to manage STDs and improve their patients’ quality of life.

Stay Informed About Your Sexual Health

Finding a sexual health clinic near you is easy. At Rapid STD Testing, we offer painless, confidential, and secure STD testing in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Simply input your zip code in our find a lab tool to search for clinics nearby.

We offer same-day STD testing, so you can avoid long waits for your results. Our team can answer any questions you have about the process, so you know what to expect.

How does STD testing work? Learn more with Rapid STD Testing today and order tests for your next screening.

Medically Reviewed By DR. HARSHI DHINGRA,Pathologist (MD) on May 07,2024


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By: David Hines
February 8, 2023