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. We’ll cover 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 to get an STI test
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 thought 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 get 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.
Talk about getting tested. It’s way more important than you think.
Written by Anne Marie Turnerm, Loyola University, Maryland
“Whenever you ask someone if they have been tested or if they want to be tested, the usual response is ‘Oh no, I am safe,'” said Nurse March. This sentiment is nothing new. Even in an era where information about sexually transmitted diseases is free for everyone, college students still are confident in their ignorance.
“I try to tell the kids that it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she continues. College students are not kids anymore, and it’s time for a wake-up call. They ask to be treated as adults, and therefore they must act like responsible adults. If you are sexually active, getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases is the most important thing you can do to be 100 percent sure you are safe.
According to the Center for Disease Control, by the age of 19, two out of three never-married teenagers have had sexual intercourse. College students and young adults, in general, are constantly surrounded by sex in movies, television and music. It is completely cliché, but Generation Y grew up with sex in their culture more prevalently around them than any other. Most people still remember the most awkward conversations of their youth… the “Sex Talk.” Your mom or dad sat you down and began the conversations with, “Well, now, sweetie when two people love each other very much…” Oh God, mom stop now!
Yes, this conversation has haunted you your entire life, but it also made you aware at a young age that talking about sex is important. No matter what anyone says, sex is a big deal. So why are people afraid to talk about it with the person they are doing it with?
“My boyfriend and I are safe, so I never thought to get tested,” Mary, a 21-year-old, said. “I know that we should, I’m not stupid. You just never want to think that you have something, you know?” This rings true with many people in their late teens and early twenties. Denial soothes the soul and calms the nerves. People believe that they will never be the statistic. No one wants to ask themselves, “Does my partner have an STD? Do I have an STD?”
Talking to your significant other about their past sexual relationships can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most conversations that matter make people nervous because the outcome matters. “I talked to my girlfriend about her previous boyfriends, like three or four months into dating her. I didn’t want to know, but I had to know,” said Mark, a 20-year-old. “In my mind, I was the only one she had ever been with.”
Mark’s feelings and situations mirror that of many college-aged students. Fear of the unknown can discourage people from actually talking about past experiences. Talking about your sexual history can be uncomfortable and squirm-worthy, but it is important.
Talking about your past histories is the first step that hopefully will lead to getting tested. Knowing your partner‘s past is one thing, but you don’t know who their past partners have been with either. As smart adults, you cannot just take someone else’s word for truth. Do not just blindly accept what you think to be true.
Some of the statistics for sexually transmitted diseases in the United States are staggering. According to the American Sexual Health Association, 20 million new STI cases happen every year in the U.S. Half of those cases come from young people aged 15–24. But only 12 percent got tested. Getting tested is not something that can be overlooked. Many STDs lay dormant. People think that if you have genital warts or herpes you don’t have it anymore if there isn’t an outbreak. Wrong.
If your knowledge of STDs is shaky, you are not alone. Even if people are unable to name every STD, you still want to be sure that you don’t have any of them. You and your partner shouldn’t be embarrassed about getting tested. Knowing that you are clean of STDs is the safest thing you can do for both you and your partner.
For information on how to get tested, contact your schools medical center or visit Planned Parenthood.
*Updated on June 26, 2014 by Anne Marie Turnerm to include “Talk About Getting Tested.”