National health data estimates that about 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur in the United States every year, about half of those in people between the ages of 15 and 24.

But only about 12% of young people who were newly infected with an STD actually got tested, which means a huge proportion of people contracting STDs are unaware and probably passing their infections along to others.

Many people who are at-risk of contracting an STD may be embarrassed to tell their doctors they may have caught something or may be confused about how STD testing actually works.

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How long does STD testing take?

This depends largely on which sexually transmitted diseases you are being tested for and how. For instance, some HIV tests can be done in a doctor’s office or even at home and produce results within just 20 minutes. At-home tests for many of the most common STDs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia and trich, can take a day or two.

What do STD tests check for?

STD testing consists of blood or urine samples, cheek swabs, vaginal swabs or penile swabs and test for the presence of bacteria or viruses that cause sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, HPV and HIV.

How does STD testing work?

Testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) involves checking a person’s blood, urine or other sample for the presence of antibodies that indicate a person has been infected with a particular bacteria or virus. The body produces these antibodies within a variable period after being exposed and infected.

What is included in a full STD panel?

A full STD panel varies depending on the provider, but the most commonly included tests check for HIV, hepatitis (A, B and/or C), chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Some providers include testing for HPV, though this varies widely. Particularly for people who are at high risk, getting tested for several diseases all at once can provide peace of mind.

Can I get an STD test if I’m on my period?

Yes, even heavy bleeding should not affect the results of any testing for a sexually transmitted disease. Remember that heavy, irregular bleeding is often a sign of an STD, so if your period has changed recently, you should speak with your doctor about it.

What are the first signs of an STD?

Many sexually transmitted diseases have similar symptoms, and many people who are infected show no outward signs at all. Among the most common symptoms are itching and burning of the genitals or anus as well as difficulty or pain when urinating. Sores in certain areas of the body, such as the vulva or penis, also are quite common among many STDs, though the specific appearance of the sores can easily be confused for something less problematic, such as acne.

Can you sleep with someone with an STD and not get it?

While it is possible to have sex with someone who currently has an STD and not come down with that same STD, studies have placed the chances of getting syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhea from a one-night stand at about 30%.

How do I know if I’m at risk of an STD?

Anybody who has sex or any sexual contact with another person is at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. While methods of protecting yourself can vastly reduce your risk of getting STDs (or becoming or getting someone else pregnant), the only way to be sure you’ll never get an STD is never to expose your genitals to another person or have any contact with theirs. In other words, engaging in total abstinence is the only way to be sure you’re at no risk of an STD. That said, the more often you engage in sex, particularly outside of a monogamous relationship, the more risk you have.

How do you know if you have an STD without getting tested?

While the only way to know whether you’ve been infected with a sexually transmitted disease is to get yourself tested, some of the telltale signs of STDs are similar across different infections, such as sores or skin lesions, painful urination or increased frequency of menstrual periods. Most people who have STDs are not aware of it, though, because their bodies show no signs or they mistake the signs as something else. So don’t rely on guessing or looking at Google images to diagnose a possible STD.

How often should I get tested for STDs?

Most sexually active people should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases at least once a year. Those who have multiple partners or who are in high-risk groups, which often includes gay and bisexual men, should get tested 2-3 times a year.

How do I prepare for an STD test?

Most STD testing doesn’t require any special considerations on your part. However, if your test consists of a urine sample, try to avoid peeing for about an hour before the test. Your test provider may have other specific instructions, so be sure to follow them.

How soon after unprotected sex can I test for STDs?

Reliable results for sexually transmitted diseases depend on the particular STD, test provider and your specific biology, but here are some good guidelines:

  • Chlamydia: 1-5 days
  • Gonorrhea: 2-6 days
  • HIV (RNA method): 9-11 days
  • Syphilis: 21-42 days
  • Hepatitis B: 21-42 days
  • Hepatitis C: 56-72 days
  • Genital herpes (HSV-2): 28-42 days
  • HIV (antibody method): 30-90 days

Which STDs are curable?

Most of the common sexually transmitted disease in the world are quite treatable. Gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and trichomoniasis all can be cured with a simple pill. While others, such as herpes and HIV, aren’t completely curable, they, too, can be treated with medication so that viral loads drop and, in the case of people who take daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV, they can no longer pass the virus along to sexual partners.

Does a guy have to come to give you an STD?

No, most STDs do not require the presence of semen to be transmitted, though for many of them, the presence of bodily fluids like semen or blood increase the chances of the STD being passed along. But many of the most common diseases, like gonorrhea or herpes, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

Can you get tested for STDs without your parents knowing?

In every state in the U.S. individuals who are at least 16 are legally permitted to undergo testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Some states have even younger limits, while other states do not list any ages in their laws. In Alabama, California, Delaware and Vermont, the specified minimum age is 12; the limit is 14 in Washington, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Hawaii and Idaho; and the minimum age in South Carolina is 16.

Can you test yourself for STDs at home?

Yes, many at-home test kits are available for discreetly testing yourself for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Testing methods are different depending on the STDs you’re checking for, and this could include a urine sample, finger prick or swab. However, the only reliable method for testing for STDs at home is through one of these kits; the only way to confirm whether you have an STD is for your biological samples to be analyzed by a lab.

If I don’t test positive, does that mean I don’t have an STD?

Not in every case. All disease, including sexually transmitted diseases, have a period where the body shows no signs of infection, even in the blood. This varies depending on the condition (and the individual person’s body chemistry), but it’s recommended that if you’ve been exposed or are in a high-risk group that you get tested regularly.

Is testing myself with an at-home STD kit painful?

No, most home test kits require only a finger stick (similar to how those with diabetes check their blood sugar), swab or urine sample. If you do happen to have an STD and are currently having an outbreak, vaginal or penile swabs could potentially irritate the affected area.

Are home STD kits reliable?

Any reliable at-home STD service will be open and transparent about what it tests for and how a positive result is achieved. Reliable test kit providers partner with labs that are certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act and accredited by the College of American Pathologists. According to independent testing, most of the popular test kits on the market today are at least 95% accurate.