If you’re sexually active, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your sexual partners is get screened regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms.

Sexually transmitted infections and diseases are very common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that in 2021, more than 2.5 million cases of STIs were reported. But the actual number is likely higher. That’s because many STIs don’t cause any symptoms, so many people don’t know they have one. The good news is that STIs and STDs are treatable, and many are curable.

Below, we’ll explain when and why you should get tested for STIs and STDs. We’ll also go over where to get tested, the different types of tests, how testing works and what your treatment options may be if you need them.

When, how often and who should get tested for STIs and STDs

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), screening recommendations for sexually transmitted infections depends on what kind of infection you’re being screened for, your age, sex, current medical situation, personal history, and your current and previous sexual activity.

But it’s also helpful to speak with your doctor about when screening or testing makes sense. Depending on your unique medical history or risk factors, your doctor may recommend following additional screening guidelines from organizations like the CDC or the Minnesota Department of Health. For example, both of these organizations recommend stricter testing guidelines for STIs like syphilis during pregnancy.

Screening recommendations for gonorrhea and chlamydia

Currently, the USPSTF doesn’t recommend testing for men, as more research is needed to determine the benefits and possible drawbacks of testing. Women who should be tested include:

  • Women ages 15 to 24, including pregnant women, should get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year
  • Women 25 and older, including pregnant women, should get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea yearly if they have previously had an STI, have a partner who tested positive for an STI, if they have new or multiple sexual partners, or if they don’t consistently use protection if they’re not in a monogamous relationship

Screening recommendations for human papillomavirus (HPV)

Screening for HPV can be done at the same time as a Pap test, and is recommended:

  • Every three years for women ages 21 to 65 during a screening for cervical cancer only
  • Every five years for women ages 30 to 65 while screening for high-risk HPV (hrHPV) alone
  • Every five years for women ages 30 to 65 while screening for both cervical cancer and hrHPV
  • Every three years for women ages 21 to 65 who are at risk for cervical cancer due to exposure to HPV during sexual intercourse
  • For women 21 to 65 years old with certain risk factors such as HIV, a compromised immune system, and women who have had treatment for precancerous lesions or cervical cancer

Testing isn’t currently recommended for women younger than 21, women over 65 who’ve been adequately tested over the years, and women who have had a hysterectomy. Routine testing for men isn’t currently recommended, and screening is only recommended for men who show signs or symptoms of HPV.

Screening recommendations for hepatitis B and C

Although hepatitis A can be sexually transmitted, the USPSTF doesn’t currently have testing recommendations for it. But there are testing recommendations for hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV):

  • Regular testing for HBV is recommended for those at increased risk. This includes:
    • People who weren’t vaccinated against HBV as infants
    • People born in countries that have high occurrences of HBV
    • People who have HBV
    • People who have a sexual partner who has HBV
    • People who use injectable drugs
    • Men who have sex with men
  • Testing for HCV is recommended for the following:
    • People ages 18 to 79, including pregnant women, should be tested at least once in their lives
    • People who are at an increased risk, like those for HBV, should be tested regularly

Screening recommendations for herpes simplex virus (HSV)

Routine screening for HSV is not currently recommended for people who don’t have any signs, symptoms or history with it, but it is still recommended for:

  • People of any age who request testing due to signs, symptoms or history with HSV
  • People who have HIV or other immunosuppressive conditions

Screening recommendations for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Regular screening for HIV isn’t recommended for most people, but is recommended for:

  • People ages 15 to 65 should be tested at least once in their lives
  • Repeat screenings are recommended for men who have sex with men, people who have unprotected sex, and people who use injectable drugs

Screening recommendations for syphilis

Screening recommendations differ for pregnant women and adolescents, and adults who aren’t pregnant:

  • Adolescents and adults should be tested annually if they’re at higher risk of infection, such as:
    • People who have a sexual partner who has syphilis
    • People who use injectable drugs
    • Men who have sex with men
  • Pregnant women should be tested as early in their pregnancy as possible

Screening for STIs if you’re not experiencing symptoms

Many STIs don’t have symptoms, so you may not know you need to get screened. But there are some instances where you may want to get screened to put your mind at ease:

  • If you think you’ve been exposed to an STI
  • If you’ve had unprotected sex
  • If you have sex with new or multiple partners

If you’re in a long-term, monogamous relationship where you and your partner were both tested before beginning your relationship, you may not need to be tested for STIs. But if neither of you were tested before you began your relationship, it may be helpful to get screened just to be on the safe side.

Testing for STDs if you start experiencing symptoms

When symptoms start, an STI is considered an STD. If you start to notice symptoms like unusual discharge, burning when you pee, or your genitals start itching or become irritated, you should get tested for an STD. Symptoms of STDs can be confused with symptoms of another condition, like a urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection, so testing is the only way to know exactly what’s going on.

How STI and STD tests work

There isn’t one test for all STIs and STDs. Each has its own test, and your doctor can help you figure out what you should be tested for. Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s important to get tested if you think you’ve been exposed. And since some STIs and STDs are so similar, you may be tested for a few different infections.

  • Blood test – A sample of blood is collected from your arm or a finger prick, and analyzed in a lab. Typically, blood tests are used to diagnose HIV, herpes, hepatitis and syphilis.
  • Swab test – During this test, your doctor will use a swab to take a sample from your cervix, urethra, throat or rectum. Swab tests are used to diagnose gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis and HPV. There are also cheek swabs that can be used to test for HIV.
  • Urine test – This type of test analyzes your urine sample in a lab and can be used to diagnose chlamydia and gonorrhea for women and men, and trichomoniasis, usually for men.
  • Blister or sore swab – If you develop symptoms like blisters or sores, your doctor can take a swab sample. Blister and sore swabs are typically used to diagnose syphilis and herpes.
  • Physical exam – A care provider will examine your genitals for sores, warts, rashes, discharge or irritation. Depending on what they observe, they may order further testing.

STD test results differ based on the type of infection you’re tested for and the type of test you get. Some tests take as little as 1-3 days, while others can take a few weeks before you get results.

Where to get tested for STIs and STDs

Whether you’re getting screened at a prenatal visit, during your annual checkup or testing if you think you’ve been exposed, STI and STD testing is quick, easy and confidential. Testing can be done at your doctor’s office, but it’s important to check your insurance, if you have it, to see your co-pay and what your plan covers. Testing may also be available at a local lab, local health clinics or community clinics, where it may be low cost or even free.

STD testing through your local primary care clinic

At HealthPartners, we offer convenient, quick and easy testing for STIs and STDs at any of our HealthPartners or Park Nicollet OB-GYN and primary care clinics in the Twin Cities, Central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, as well as at our HealthPartners Health Center for Women and Park Nicollet Women’s Center.

We offer screening for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HSV (herpes) and trichomoniasis through Virtuwell, our 24/7 online clinic. All you have to do is answer a few questions about your symptoms and medical history, then one of our certified nurse practitioners will send a diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. And if a prescription is needed, we can send it directly to your pharmacy of choice.

There are at-home testing options for STIs and STDs that range from testing for the most common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis, to testing for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C. These kits are available at drug stores, clinics, pharmacies and online.

The at-home test kits that test for just a few STIs can be relatively inexpensive, but the kits that test for more STIs and STDs can be expensive. In general, at-home testing may be more expensive than other options as most insurance providers do not cover at-home test kits.

Through Virtuwell, we offer at-home test kits for women to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. With the kit, you’ll collect a sample with a vaginal swab, send it in to our lab and get results in just a few days after your sample is received.

Treatment options if you’re diagnosed with an STI or STD

Treatment options vary for STIs and STDs. Some are treatable and curable, while others aren’t curable, but able to be effectively managed so you can live a long, healthy life. Here are the treatment options available for the most commonly reported STIs in the U.S.

Sexually transmitted bacterial infection treatment

Bacterial infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis can be treated with either a one-shot antibiotic, or a course of antibiotics. It’s recommended to abstain from sex for seven days after finishing treatment, and to retest after three months to ensure the infection has cleared up.

Hepatitis B (HBV) treatment

If acute HBV is diagnosed and a care provider determines it’s temporary and will go away on its own, treatment probably won’t be needed. Rest, plenty of fluids and proper nutrition should be enough while the body fights the virus on its own.

If chronic HBV is diagnosed, it’s usually lifelong but can be managed with antiviral medication and injections designed to fight the infection and reduce the risk of more serious health issues later in life.

Hepatitis C (HCV) treatment

Like HBV, HCV can be diagnosed as acute or chronic, but unlike HBV, there isn’t a vaccine. If diagnosed with acute HCV, it’s curable in more than 95% of the cases when treated with specific antiviral medication.

Chronic HCV used to require weekly injections and medications, but now it’s usually curable with oral medications taken every day for 2-6 months.

Herpes simplex (HSV) treatment

There isn’t a cure for herpes, but it can be managed to prevent or shorten outbreaks with the use of daily antiviral medications. The antiviral medication can also reduce the chance of it being spread to others.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) treatment

Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). HIV isn’t curable, but the sooner consistent treatment is started with ART, the better the chances to get the virus under control to the point where the virus can become virtually undetectable in the blood.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) treatment

There isn’t a treatment for HPV. The body’s immune system will usually clear the virus on its own, within six months to two years. In a small number of cases, HPV can cause other health complications like genital warts or cancer, where the treatment options vary widely.

Syphilis treatment

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be cured with antibiotics. Depending on the stage of the infection, doctors might recommend one shot of penicillin in the early stages, three shots in the later stages or intravenous (IV) penicillin if syphilis affects the nervous system.

Pubic lice treatment

One treatment with an over-the-counter lotion or shampoo that has 1% permethrin or pyrethrin can be used to clear up pubic lice. If over-the-counter medications don’t work, a doctor can prescribe something stronger.

Getting tested for STIs and STDs is important for your health and well-being

It’s important to be open and honest with your doctor about your sexual history. During your annual physical or visit to the gynecologist, if you think you’ve been exposed to an STI or STD, talk with your doctor about your testing options, even if you don’t have symptoms.

There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about testing for STIs and STDs. If you do test positive, you can start treatment immediately and avoid potentially serious health issues or spreading an infection to your partner in the future.