It isn’t always easy to know whether you have contracted an STI.

This is because lots of people don’t experience any noticeable symptoms even when the bacteria, virus or parasite is present in the body.

If you think you are experiencing symptoms of an STI or suspect you have had unprotected sex with someone who has one, then you should get tested.

Clinic testing vs home testing:

Getting tested for an STI can be a daunting experience but it needn’t be.

There are various options available to make it easier to find out if you have been infected. All sexually transmitted infections are easily tested for or diagnosed on examination.

You can take the more traditional route by making an appointment at your GP, attending your local genitourinary medicine clinic (GUM) or sexual health clinic.

However, an often easier and more discreet option which is now available is the home testing kit. Diagnostic technology has advanced to the point where patients can self-test, by posting a sample to a clinical laboratory for investigation.

  • STI home test

When using an at-home STI test kit, men will be asked to provide a urine sample, and women may also be asked to provide this and a non-invasive vaginal swab.

Both samples are painless, easy to collect and can be carried out in the comfort of your own home. Samples are then posted to the laboratory for testing.

There are several types of at-home test kits available which can test for a range of STIs. The results from this type of STI test are normally available within 72 hours of the laboratory receiving the sample. You are usually able to choose how you will be informed about your result from a list of options.

  • STI clinics

STI specialised clinics and GUM clinics usually have bookable appointments available and sometimes ‘drop-in’ sessions where you can attend without an appointment.

The appointment will most likely consist of a conversation with a doctor or nurse about your medical and sexual history.

Depending on the outcome of the conversation the healthcare professional may wish to carry out a physical examination of your genitals and you may be asked to provide one or more samples. This may be from the urine, the blood, a urethral swab or additionally for women a vaginal swab.

  • Blood samples are usually used to test for HIV and syphilis. 
  • Urine tests are used to check for chlamydia, trichomoniasis (TV) and for gonorrhoea in males. 
  • Swabs can test for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, TV and herpes. 
  • Genital warts are usually diagnosed upon examination. 
  • Some results are available on the day but for others you may have to wait up to two weeks. 
  • The clinic usually contacts you directly if a positive result is confirmed, and you may be asked to attend for a follow up appointment to discuss your results and treatment options.

How accurate are STI tests?

Thanks to advances in diagnostic science STI tests are more accurate now than ever; in one recent study for instance, a combination of urinary culture and vulvovaginal swabbing was found to be 99 per cent successful in detecting female cases of gonorrhoea.

However, it is still worth noting that no STI test is 100 per cent accurate whether taken at home or in a clinical setting.

If you think you are at risk of having contracted an STI you should not delay getting tested.

Occasionally those who receive a negative result may be asked to provide a further sample if there is a chance that the optimum exposure period has not been reached.

The exposure period refers to the amount of time it takes for the infection to show up in the body and can vary between STIs. For example chlamydia and gonorrhea can take up to two weeks, whereas HIV can take four weeks or more before being confirmed as present in a person’s system.

A positive STI result - what do you do?

What if your results are back and they’ve confirmed that you have an STI?

There are various treatment options available depending on the STI that you have been diagnosed with.

It is important to contact your previous sexual partners as soon as possible to let them know that you have tested positive. This will help minimise the risk of spreading the infection and allow them to organise their own test. GUM clinics can sometimes help do this on your behalf.

  • Remember, not all STIs cause noticeable symptoms; therefore, even if you don’t display typical STI signs, it is still important to get tested if you think you are at risk. 
  • To avoid contracting further sexually transmitted infections you should practice safe sex. 
  • If you are sexually active and under the age of 25 years you should be screened for infections every year or after each new sexual partner.