Did you know that before they turn 25 years old, about half of all sexually active Americans will contract at least one sexually transmitted disease? But far fewer will become aware of their infection before they either suffer serious medical issues or pass their infection along to someone else.

The vast majority of people who are infected with STDs never get tested and are unaware they have anything to be concerned about. That helps spread disease and continue the cycle of STDs. But the growth of facilities that offer rapid STD testing could help change all of that.

Many county health departments and other public agencies offer free or reduced-cost tests, and there are dozens of private companies that also can provide safe, confidential STD testing that could be covered by your health insurance.

Each facility varies a bit in terms of what they charge and what they test for. Also, depending on your history and risk factors, specific tests may be recommended for you. But here are some of the most common sexually transmitted infections that can be tested for quickly and confidentially:

  • Chlamydia
  • HIV
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Syphilis
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Genital warts
  • Herpes
  • Trichomoniasis (trich)

So how does this testing work? That depends on you and what STDs they’re checking for; testing methods often vary depending on whether you have a penis or a vagina.

  • Men: Often a urine sample is all that’s required, though for some STDs, a blood sample will need to be taken. For others, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, a swab of the urethra is necessary. Other areas also can be tested, depending on the test type. HIV, for instance, is sometimes diagnosed by taking an oral swab.
  • Women: Many STDs are diagnosed in women via a vaginal or endocervical swab. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for instance, though it can be diagnosed through a urine sample only, is more often diagnosed in women via a swab. For both men and women, checking for syphilis generally means a blood test, though for people who have open sores, a sample of fluid from the sore could be tested as well.

How long it takes to get results back depends on the diseases being checked, the method of testing and the testing site. For instance, many companies will share results with your doctor before they are sent on to you, and this could take 7-10 business days. Other facilities offer rapid testing, particularly for HIV, that can deliver your results in as little as 20 minutes.

Remember, though, that with some STDs, you will need to be rechecked in a number of months. That’s because every STD has its own specific window period, or length of time between exposure to the bacteria or virus and date when a test can accurately detect the disease in your body. For instance, many medical professionals recommend that if you’ve been exposed to HIV but have not tested positive, you should be tested again in three months. Repeat testing also is necessary for those who have already tested positive for an STD and have recently completed treatment so that they can be sure the disease has been fully cured.

Finally, there are many populations for whom routine STD testing is recommended, but everyone between 13 and 64 should be tested at least once for HIV. All women 25 and under who are sexually active should be tested at least once a year for gonorrhea and chlamydia, and women older than that who have many new sexual partners should also get tested at least once a year for gonorrhea and chlamydia. All gay and bisexual men who are sexually active should be tested at least annually for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, and those who have multiple partners should be tested more often.

The widespread availability of affordable, reliable and confidential STD testing centers means there’s no reason to fear finding out your STD status. Just like any other aspect of your health, getting regularly tested for diseases you’re at risk of contracting means you’re being proactive and embracing preventive medicine.

Interested in getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases and infections or other related conditions? Explore below to find a testing center near you: