Although many people think that STD screening is part of their normal health care, it isn't. If you want to be proactive about your sexual health and get tested -- either for your own peace of mind or before taking a new sexual partner -- you need to be able to ask your doctor for the tests you want. This handy guide to asking your doctor for STD tests will hopefully make that easier.
Introduction: The Tests You May Want to Ask For
To be relatively comprehensively screened for STDs, there are a number of tests that you can ask for.
Bacterial & Fungal STDs
- Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the easiest STDs to be tested for. Young women are sometimes screened for them automatically, but you cannot depend on that. You are usually tested for these two STDs with either a swab or a urine test.
- Most syphilis testing is performed with a blood test.
- Trichomoniasis and BV are usually tested for using a vaginal swab. There is also a trichomoniasis urine test.
- HIV tests are almost always blood tests. However, some clinics can test a swab of your oral fluid.
- Herpes screening is done with a blood test, unless you have symptoms. If you have symptoms, you may be diagnosed by a physical exam or a swab of your sores.
- Hepatitis is diagnosed with a series of blood tests. You can also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.
- There is no standard test for HPV in men, unless they have anal sex. However, women may be tested for HPV alongside their Pap smear. Some dentists will also offer an oral swab test to look for throat infections with HPV, but these are not easy to find.
Note: Any blood test that tests for antibodies -- such as the standard screening tests for herpes and HIV -- can take up to six months to turn positive and will generally not be positive for at least several weeks. Therefore, if you are being screened after a risky encounter, it is important to let your doctor know. There may be other testing options to detect very new infections.
Asking for a Test
You cannot assume that your doctor will screen you for STDs as part of your standard care. Therefore, it is important to ask for the STD tests that you want.
Do not simply ask for "STD screening" or even "comprehensive STD screening," since those requests mean different things to different doctors. Instead, you should say something like:
"Although I always practice safer sex, I like to be screened on a yearly basis for my own peace of mind. Therefore, I would like to be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HIV, and trichomoniasis, please."
"I'm about to start having sex with a new partner, and we'd both like to be tested before we do. Could you test me for the bacterial STDs, HIV, and herpes?"
"I recently had unprotected sex, and I'm worried that my partner may have exposed me to something. Could you give me a full battery of STD tests including: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, herpes, and hepatitis? I know it might take some of those tests a bit of time to turn positive, but it would make me feel better to do something."
What if My Doctor Says No?
Although most doctors are willing to screen you for STDs if you ask them and explain why it is important to you, some doctors are really bad about screening. They may not think testing is important, or they may not know that certain screening tests, like those for genital herpes, exist. If this happens, you have several options:
- Ask why they aren't willing to test you, and politely explain why you disagree with any of their assumptions and would still like to get tested.
- Find a different doctor.
- Visit a Planned Parenthood or STD clinic, where doctors are better informed about testing.
- Use an online testing service.
Not all online testing services are the same. DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST. If you go this route, you should, at minimum, look for one that sends you to a standard medical lab in your area (i.e., Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp) and provides after-test counseling and referrals for treatment.
If you are open and upfront about your reasons for wanting testing, most doctors will respect you for your desire to take care of your health. However, if you get any other reaction from your doctor, it is okay to look elsewhere for medical care. Your sexual decisions are your own, and it is not your doctor's place to judge you for them. Their job is to take care of your health and help you to do the same.