Millions of Americans will newly contract cases of sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections this year. In fact, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, there will be upwards of 20 million new STD infections this year alone.
Rates of several common STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, are on the rise, and young people are at higher risk of contracting many infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, two STDs for which those between the ages of 15 and 24 account for the majority of new cases.
Despite this elevated STI/STD risk, research shows that only about 1 in 10 young people have been tested for STDs in the past year. While chlamydia and gonorrhea are potentially serious problems, they are easily treated and cured. But even for STDs that are lifelong problems, such as HIV, testing still lags. In fact, among the populations whose risk of contracting HIV is highest, only about 30% have ever been screened for the virus.
For many people, even those at high risk of contracting an STD, there are lots of barriers to them getting tested, including time, cost, insurance and more. Fortunately, in most places in the U.S., there are many options for getting checked for STDs and STIs that are cheap or free and can give you results even that same day.
Planned Parenthood is one of the nation’s largest providers of testing services for HIV, and the organization administers hundreds of thousands of screenings every year for HIV and other STIs and STDs. In fact, Planned Parenthood administers about 4 million STD tests every year. The organization has more than 600 locations across the country, and it’s easy to search for a Planned Parenthood clinic near you.
Some but not all offer low-cost or free testing, and this is usually based on your income and health insurance status. At some Planned Parenthood clinics, rapid HIV testing can tell you whether you are infected with the virus within about 20 minutes. Results from most tests take at least five days, which is standard for most STD tests.
All services provided are fully confidential, and clinic staff should be able to tell you before you get tested what the screening will cost.
College & University Health Centers
Most medium to large universities and colleges operate on-campus health centers, many of which are staffed around-the-clock. Because they are run by universities, most centers provide services at little to no cost to patients, and in addition to offering STD screenings, such clinics are an ideal resource for things like birth control and condoms.
And because they are most often housed on campus, these clinics are designed to be as convenient as possible for students to access, offering hours that fit in with typical academic schedules and allow for students to simply pop by when they have the time.
Health Departments & Community Clinics
Most counties and large cities have public health departments, and for many large communities, these departments staff health clinics year-round while others may conduct pop-up clinic events, such as blood drives, flu shot clinics and even STD testing. Because these clinics and events are funded through taxpayer dollars, testing is usually free, though some clinics may charge fees on a sliding scale based on income.
Nonprofit groups and religious organizations also may staff clinics or conduct events in communities. What services these organizations offer varies widely, and because some parts of the country are much more conservative, it can be tougher to find free or low-cost STD testing, especially at clinics run by religious organizations. However, even in rural America, rates of STDs like HIV can be quite high due in part to the opioid epidemic, which has seen HIV rates in many rural areas rise. Accordingly, in many seemingly conservative places, free STD tests are readily available.
LGBTQ+ Health Clinics
Men who have sex with men are at the highest risk among all Americans of exposure to HIV, and there’s an entire cultural movement focused on bringing down HIV rates among everybody, especially those who are at the highest risk. This movement has helped create the need for services geared toward the LGBTQ+ community across the country.
Most major cities have at least one LGBTQ+ advocacy group, and these organizations often operate free or low-cost health clinics where people can get healthcare services, including STD testing, particularly rapid HIV testing.
What Tests Do I Need?
The CDC recommends at least one round of STD testing for everybody between the ages of 13 and 64, though specific guidelines vary depending on the population. Here’s a look at what’s recommended:
- Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get at least one HIV screening in their lifetimes.
- Sexually active women under 25 should have a gonorrhea/chlamydia test at least annually.
- Sexually active women over 25 who have multiple partners or have had a sexual partner who has an STD should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year.
- All pregnant people should have an early-pregnancy test for syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B, and those at higher risk should also be tested for gonorrhea and syphilis and may need repeat testing to protect the health of the fetus.
- Men who have sex with men should have annual tests for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, and those who have multiple partners should be tested more regularly, such as every quarter or twice a year.
- Anyone who practices unsafe sex or has shared drug injection equipment should have an HIV screening at least annually.
Outside of these guidelines, if you suspect or know that you’ve been exposed to a particular infection, you may need to wait for a brief period before getting screened. That’s because every STD has a variable window of time before which the infection won’t show up in your body. This also depends on the type of testing you get; antibody/antigen tests sometimes require waiting longer for your body to begin fighting the infection, while tests that are done at the molecular level can check for the actual DNA or RNA of the virus or pathogen.
Your testing provider should be able to answer any questions you might have about how often you should be tested and what methods their testing employs.
Knowledge is power, and combating the increasing rates of STDs means that every single person who is sexually active is responsible for ensuring they aren’t passing along infections to their sexual partners. With the widespread availability of free and low-cost testing that you can probably access today, there is no reason not to find out your status.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Lowdown on How to Prevent STDs. (2016.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/lowdown/lowdown-text-only.htm
Journal of Adolescent Health, Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States. (2016.) Retrieved from https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(16)00019-7/fulltext
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Most Americans Have Never Had an HIV Test, New Data Show. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2019/NHTD-2019-press-release.html