Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases and infections is an important part of ensuring that you are healthy, but far too few people, even those at high risk of contracting an STD, are actually getting themselves checked.
Federal health officials recommend that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be checked at least once in their lives for HIV, and most sexually active people should get checked more frequently for STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, depending on their sexual habits.
Even for those who aren’t in high-risk groups, STDs are incredibly common; in fact, about half of all sexually active Americans will contract at least one infection by the time they reach age 25, and most sexually active people will contract an STD eventually.
STDs spread precisely because people think they aren’t at risk and don’t get themselves tested, but with the widespread availability of cheap or free STD testing services, for most people, there really is no excuse for not getting tested.
Here’s a look at what low-cost or free STD testing resources are likely available near you and some other things it can be helpful to know before deciding which STD test service is right for you.
Free Testing Resources
Getting a free STD test could be as simple as just going to your regular doctor’s office. Many health insurance providers cover 100% of the cost of testing for some common STDs, and this usually includes things like HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Consult your insurer’s website, your plan documentation or the insurer’s patient services line to find out what’s covered. Many insurers will cover the cost of STD testing even if you don’t go to your doctor’s office but rather visit a health clinic, such as Planned Parenthood or in-pharmacy clinics, but be sure you understand what your options are.
For those without health insurance coverage or who simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of insurance providers, there are other options for free STD testing, but these will depend on where you live. Many local health departments, especially in big cities or in smaller communities that have been hard-hit by STDs, regularly or occasionally operate free clinics where people can get free STD testing.
In addition to these government-run options, many LGBTQ+ organizations operate health clinics or do STD testing, usually at no cost, and for those who are still in college, many universities offer free screenings through student health services departments or clinics.
Low-Cost Testing Resources
If your health insurance provider doesn’t cover 100% of the cost of STD screening, chances are they cover enough to make testing more affordable; a typical co-pay amount is in the range of $25 to $50 for a full battery of STD tests. Again, the best way to find out what’s available to you is to consult your insurance provider.
Planned Parenthood and other community health clinics are ideal for uninsured people looking for low-cost screening options, as they generally operate on a sliding payment scale that’s based on your income.
Many at-home testing kits are also available, and while their prices vary depending on the provider and what STDs the kits check for, it’s reasonable to expect to pay as little as $20 to find out your status for a single infection. Multi-panel tests are also available, and generally, the more diseases they test for, the more expensive they are.
What Tests Do I Need?
Outside of a specific exposure event (meaning having unprotected sex with an infected person), there are some statistical probabilities that impact which diseases you’re most likely to get based on your sexual habits.
Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested at least once in their lives for HIV.
Women under 25, regardless of their sexual orientation, are urged to get screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia at least once a year and more often than that if they have multiple sexual partners.
For women who are older than that likely don’t need annual screenings unless they have high-risk sexual habits, such as having lots of partners.
Men who have sex with men are at the highest risk of contracting most STDs, including HIV and syphilis, so these men are urged to get checked about once a year for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, and depending on their sex practices, it may be advantageous for them to be tested more frequently for HIV.
Less-frequent testing is usually OK for straight men provided that they routinely use protection during sex.
Being diagnosed with an STD is, to say the least, a bummer. But the far worse option is not knowing. If you don’t know what you have, you can’t get treated for it, and in some cases, that could even be deadly. Aside from the direct impact on your health, if you have untreated STDs, you greatly increase the risk that you will spread them to your sexual partners even if you practice safer sex. That’s because lots of STDs can be spread through skin-to-skin contact and don’t require intercourse to be transmitted.
The good news is that from traditional in-office testing to the array of newly available at-home kits, STD testing doesn’t need to be something you avoid for financial reasons.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Which STD Tests Should I Get? (2014.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm