Everything you need to know to keep yourself safe

Getting Tested

Now that you’ve scheduled your appointment and you’re at the clinic, it’s time to get tested. Healthcare providers want to hear about your experiences, concerns, and questions. Sometimes they might not bring up a topic that’s important to you. It’s perfectly okay for you to bring up issues yourself. Take advantage of your provider’s knowledge and ask any questions you have. This is an opportunity for you to talk without fear of any judgment. Depending on your interests and needs, your provider might be able to provide you with educational materials and/or help refer you to other clinics. The more honest and open you are with your provider, the better they can help you.

A Pelvic Exam

A pelvic exam is when a healthcare provider looks at the internal and external reproductive organs of a person with ovaries, a uterus, and a vagina. Pelvic exams don’t usually happen for teens, but they may get one if there might be something wrong. It’s recommended that you start getting pelvic exams when you’re 21 years old.

Our friends at Oh Joy Sex Toy created a comic (shown on the right) describing pelvic exams. Click on the graphic to view it in full.

STI Testing

Many people think they’d know if they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but that’s not usually the case. Many STIs have mild to no symptoms at all, which makes testing even more important. The only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to get tested. Don’t worry, though! STI testing can be quick, easy, and painless—the most common STIs can even be tested with a simple urine sample. Below describes what you can expect for this test.

Before the Test

Your healthcare provider will probably begin by asking you some questions about your sexual history. These questions help them understand what tests may be best for you.

  • When did you last have sex?
  • Did you use a condom the last time you had sex?
  • Do you have any symptoms, such as discharge, pain, or a rash?
  • Do you believe you might have an STI?

The Test

STIs can be tested for in a variety of ways, including:

  • Urine testing
  • Blood testing
  • Genital swabs

They can be collected by either you or your healthcare provider. They will talk to you about which tests are available and what is recommended for you based on your risk factors. Depending on the recommendations, you may not even need to have an exam!

After the Test

If you’re nervous or anxious after the test, it’s okay. You were smart and responsible to get tested. Some tests will have results in just a few days, while others may take a week or more. Your healthcare provider will tell you when you can expect to hear results. Some questions you can ask your provider after the test are:

  • If it’s okay for you to have sex while you wait for the results
  • What a positive test result would mean and what the treatment for it will be
  • What they recommend you do to protect yourself from STIs in the future

If You Test Positive

The clinic may call you to discuss your results and may recommend seeing you for a visit in-person, depending on the treatment you might need. Be sure to ask questions and understand what the healthcare provider is recommending or prescribing.

Telling Your Partner(s)

It’s important that you tell your sexual partners if you’ve tested positive for an STI so they can also get tested and treated. Your previous or current partners are at risk of having the STI and giving it to others. If you’re worried that it may be unsafe to talk to your partner, consider the following:

  • Meeting with them in a public space or
  • Asking your healthcare provider for help in talking with them.

Your provider might offer to send home medication with you for your partner. This will allow your partner to start treatment right away so both of you can get better and not give the STI to each other or to new partners.

Telling your partner can be a scary idea, but remember that it’s the best way for them to protect themselves. If you’re afraid to tell your partner, check out this article from Women’s Health about genital herpes.

Additional tips to make it easier to tell your partner:

  • Gather information about your STI. This is so you can answer the questions your partner might have. Ask your healthcare provider for information about the STI and what they recommend you tell your partner.
  • Plan ahead. If you’re nervous, write a script and practice it. Start off by pointing out the good things about the relationship before transitioning to the subject about your STI.
  • Be aware of your attitude and mood when telling your partner. The way you talk about your STI can influence their reaction to it. Be straightforward, calm, and sincere.
  • Be ready to share information about treatment and symptoms.
  • Listen. Once the message is delivered, stop talking. Allow your partner to speak and process the information.
  • At the end of the day, remember that your diagnosis does not define you. Anyone who has sex can get an STI, and just because you have an STI doesn’t mean you’re more promiscuous or dirty. It simply means you got sick, you’re getting treatment, and you want your partner to do the same.

Content reviewed by Shandhini Raidoo, MD, MPH, FACOG

Last Updated: September 25, 2020 by Phyllis Raquinio