Endless hours in the library, one too many Starbucks trips and hundreds of PowerPoint slides—studying for exams is rough. On the flip side, STI tests are a piece of cake because you don’t really need to prepare.
The hardest part of the process is the moment when you decide to get tested because it means you’ll know your status—for better or for worse. Last week, we covered how to talk to your partner about getting tested for STIs. Just like that conversation, the actual test can be a bit nerve-wracking if you don’t know what to expect.
Where to go:
I’ve taken three different STI tests by now. My college health center administered one of my tests and the LGBT department set up the other two. Your experience might differ from mine if you get tested through your personal doctor or through Planned Parenthood. I went to my first STI test alone, but going with a partner or friend might make it less stressful for you.
Don’t be embarrassed:
Just like the conversations you’ve had with your partner about getting tested, going to the actual testing site should not embarrass you. I got tested on my college campus, which meant I waited in my university’s sexual health clinic. Trust me—your chances of running into someone you know are slim. Plus, everyone in the waiting room is just as worried as you about being identified. People will be too focused on themselves to think, “Oh, there’s that girl from my calculus class. I wonder if she’s here because she has herpes.”
If the thought of being seen at a sexual health clinic really does make you nervous, consider an option like Campus MD. The website offers video chats with doctors 24/7 and the FAQ says that they diagnose STIs if you are experiencing symptoms. With that option, you would not even need to leave the comfort of your dorm.
Answer questions truthfully:
Most tests begin with an interview portion. You and the health professional administering the test will decide the STIs for which you need to be tested. For example, I was not at risk for Hepatitis B, so that test was unnecessary. It’s important to speak honestly with your doctor or nurse practitioner during this conversation. You’ll typically be asked questions like, “Have you ever had sex? How many partners have you had? Do you use condoms? Have you shown any symptoms?”
Your healthcare provider will most likely prompt you, but if you would like to mention anything, make sure to do so. Has it been painful when you pee lately? Have you never had vaginal sex, but you have had oral sex? No detail is unimportant, and I can guarantee that you will not say anything your doctor has not previously heard. Your doctor won’t be fazed by the fact that you slept with three people from the same fraternity, nor will he or she be fazed by your number of sexual partners no matter how small or big.
The blood test:
Once your doctor completes the interview portion, he or she will administer different tests based on the STIs for which you are being tested. When I was tested, I gave a urine sample and a blood sample. A separate test I took for HIV used a cheek swab. Many tests also include physical exams.
Make sure to drink fluids before your test so that you can provide an adequate urine sample. If you get woozy when you give blood samples, you should bring a snack, and be sure to eat before your test unless you are instructed otherwise.
Scared of needles?
If needles scare you, this is where bringing a partner or friend can come in handy. Let your friend distract you while the doctor draws the blood. There’s a small pinch when the needle enters but after that, it doesn’t really hurt. Giving blood might tire you out for the rest of the day, so make sure not to schedule your test on the same day as your intramural Ultimate Frisbee game.
When I was tested for HIV, my health professional used an oral swab test. It kind of looked like a travel-sized toothbrush and I rubbed it on the insides of my cheeks and gums to get a cell sample. From experience, I can say that it was actually pretty fun, although the swab does taste a little salty.
The physical exam:
The physical exam is the most in-depth. My college health center does not do this for routine STI tests without symptoms, but you may want to check with your specific campus medical team. Your health professional will examine your genitals for any symptoms, like sores or lesions. He or she will then take a sample of cells and fluids. This may come from your genitals, throat and/or rectum.
Once you complete the test, all your samples—whether they are urine, blood, saliva or otherwise—go to the lab for testing. Your doctor might make a diagnosis based on the physical exam, but generally, you wait a few weeks for lab results. For every test that I’ve taken, I’ve been responsible for calling to get my results over phone or by physical pick-up. Depending on where you get tested, however, your doctor may call you to tell you your test results are ready.
Getting the results:
Waiting for my results was just as hard as waiting for my international relations final exam grade to be posted online. The possibility of having an STI, despite most being treatable, was just as nerve-wracking as the though of flunking out of a class. In a way, the two were very similar. Using protection and practicing safer sex is comparable to studying and preparing for an exam. Sure, I was anxious to get my results, but I knew I had taken the proper steps to good sexual health and academic achievement. In the end, it was worth the wait—both for passing the class and getting a clean bill of health. Even if your test results are not what you expected, at least you know for sure and can take the proper measures to getting healthy again.
When you get your results, either celebrate accordingly or speak with your doctor about the best treatment options for your infection. If your test did come back positive for an infection, make sure to check back next week when we talk about what to do when you have an STI.