How Is STI Testing Performed?

The term STI stands for “sexually transmitted infection,” and it is used interchangeably with “sexually transmitted disease” (STD). The former term is considered more accurate, however, because many people can be infected with a virus without ever showing symptoms of a disease. It is an important distinction that emphasizes the need for sexually active people to get tested for STIs regularly rather than waiting for symptoms to show up. A family doctor, gynecologist, Planned Parenthood clinic, or other clinic can perform the testing. Patients who go in for STI testing can expect the following.

First a doctor or nurse will interview the patient to get a health history. This will include asking about the number of sexual partners the patient has had, the frequency of sexual activity, and any past health problems. The doctor will also need to know about any current symptoms the patient is having.

Based on the symptoms, the doctor will most likely perform a physical exam. Specifically, the doctor will check the genitals, the anal area, and the mouth for any signs of infection. Common signs include a rash, sores, blisters, warts, discharge, redness, and swelling. For women, the exam will most likely involve a pelvic exam.

If symptoms are present, the doctor will swab the area for samples of tissue, discharge, or saliva, and the samples will be examined under a microscope. The doctor may also do a blood test and a urine test. Testing can sometimes be done on site with results given immediately. Other tests have to be sent to a lab, and results may take several days.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are most often screened with a urine test or a swab of the urethra or cervix. HIV, hepatitis C, and syphilis all require a blood test for diagnosis. There is no specific screening for the human papilloma virus in men, but in women, it can be detected with a pap smear.

All sexually active people, especially those with multiple partners, should get routine screenings for STIs. Remember that many infections present no symptoms, but they are still dangerous both to the infected person and their future sexual partners. For information about finding affordable testing sites, check out