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Health & Relationships

How to get a free STI test

Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is really nothing to be embarrassed about. It's a super simple process and, the best bit? It doesn't have to cost you a penny.

pink condom packets

Credit: Dmytro Khlystun – Shutterstock

Particularly when doubled up with another form of contraception, condoms are your best bet when having sex – but sometimes things don't go to plan. Even when you've been taking precautions, it's always better to get an STI check if you're sexually active.

Chlamydia's one of the most commons STIs, and the NHS recommends sexually active people under the age of 25 get tested for it every year or when they change sexual partners.

Don't bury your head in the sand. Getting an STI test is easy, free and can even be done from the comfort of your own home if you'd prefer. Read on to find out how.

Why should you get an STI test?

woman holding a condom

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If you've had unprotected sex of any kind – vaginal, anal or even oral – you could pick up an STI, and this also goes for genital contact and shared sex toys.

The worrying part is that you may not even realise you've got an STI as symptoms don't always show, but if left untreated they can be uncomfortable, painful and cause long-term damage to your health or fertility. And you could pass them onto someone else, too.

Thankfully, most STIs can be very easily treated, but it all hinges on you taking the test first! You should never feel embarrassed about taking care of your body, but if the idea of taking a trip to the clinic makes you flush, you can test yourself at home.

Don't forget that you can get condoms for free across the country.

How soon can you get tested for an STI?

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If you have unprotected sex, you're bound to want to get tested ASAP to find out about any infections early. But, while this is obviously a good attitude to have, you're actually better off waiting a couple of days before first getting tested.

It can take a while for STIs to show up on test results as they all have different window periods (i.e. how long it takes tests to pick them up after you've been exposed to them).

For some STIs, it can only take a couple of days for them to show up on a test, but for others, it can take weeks. It's best to take an STI test a few days after having unprotected sex, and then again a few weeks later.

Here's a list of the main STIs and how long it can take each one to show up on a test:

  • Chlamydia – Up to two weeks
  • Gonorrhoea – Up to two weeks
  • HIV – four weeks
  • Syphilis – 12 weeks
  • Hepatitis B – three months
  • Hepatitis C – three months
  • Genital herpes – you can get tested when visible blisters or sores appear (but it could take weeks or even years for symptoms to show)

Can you get an STI test at your doctors?

Scrubs characters

Credit: ABC

Many GP surgeries offer STI testing – but not all.

The easiest way to find out is to ring up and ask. If they do offer STI testing they'll book you in for an appointment and if not, they'll direct you towards the nearest service which does.

This will normally be in the form of a sexual health clinic or GUM clinic, which are just like your local doctors but they specialise in sexual health.

Visiting your doctors or a sexual health clinic is the easiest way to get a free STI test – and in some cases, the service might even be on campus so you won't have to travel far.

Remember to visit after any time you have unprotected sex – don't wait around for your yearly check-up if you have any doubts.

Find your nearest STI service »

 

What to expect at an STI test

Whether you're at your local GP or a sexual health/GUM clinic, your STI test will go something like this:

  1. You'll be able to request to be seen by a male or female doctor/nurse, but you may have to wait slightly longer for one to become available
  2. You'll be asked to answer some questions about yourself, your medical history and your sex life on a form. This is essentially used to determine how at-risk you are of catching certain infections
  3. If you're testing for chlamydia or gonorrhoea, this will involve a urine sample (for males) or a self-taken vaginal swab (for females). Testing for HIV and syphilis needs a blood sample. Herpes isn't usually tested for unless you show symptoms such as sores, in which case swabs of the sores will be taken
  4. Depending on which test you have done, results can be provided on the same day, or can take one to two weeks. It will be made clear to you on the day how long you'll have to wait for results, and they'll ask you how you would prefer to be contacted (e.g. via text)
  5. If you test positive for an STI, you'll be invited back to the clinic for treatment.
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Can you test for STIs at home?

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In short, yes!

One of the main reasons people are put off getting an STI test is the stress and hassle of going to your GP or local sexual health clinic. But, the good news is you can now test for some STIs from home.

We've put together a list of some of the main STI home testing services available. Some are free but others aren't, so make sure to check the eligibility criteria carefully for each of the ways to test for STIs at home:

  1. NHS chlamydia test

    NHS logo

    Cost: FREE

    If you're under 25, the NHS offers free home testing kits for chlamydia – just search using your postcode and follow the links to the relevant site.

    Remember, these tests are for chlamydia only. You'll need to order other home test kits or visit your GP to test for other infections.

    Order a free chlamydia home test kit »

  2. SH:24

    SH24 logo

    Cost: FREE (in some areas)

    This service allows you to test for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV for free, and from home.

    They'll send the test to you in a plain, discreet envelope and provide everything you need to freepost your urine sample to the lab.

    They'll also communicate with you via text to update you on the progress of your sample and to let you know your results.

    It's currently available in over 15 areas of the country. If they don't currently cover your area but you'd still like to receive a test, you can let them know on their website.

    Order a free home STI test kit »

  3. Fettle

    Fettle logo

    Cost: £23 – £26 per test

    If you don't live in one of the areas covered by SH:24 and can't get a free test from them, you can use Fettle instead. However, the service is not free and you'll have to fork out a bit for the tests you need.

    You can get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, but tests are priced individually.

    The combined chlamydia and gonorrhoea tests are £26, and each other infection will require a separate test, priced at either £23 or £26. You can get up to 20% off when ordering multiple test kits together.

    They offer a super-fast service – they'll deliver the test to you the next working day in a plain, discreet envelope and will get your results to you within 72 hours of receiving your samples.

    Order STI home test kits »

  4. Terrence Higgins Trust

    Terrence Higgins HIV home testing

    Cost: £15

    If you're worried that you've contracted HIV, you can order yourself a home HIV testing kit from the Terrence Higgins Trust.

    Just pop your details in and they'll post the kit to your house. Unlike other STI home testing kits, you don't need to send your sample off to the lab.

    Just follow the instructions that come with the test and you should be able to read the results for yourself within 15 minutes.

    It'll set you back £15, but this is around half the retail price, and they do have some free kits set aside for people who are unable to afford them.

    The HIV window period with a self-testing kit is three months, compared to one month with clinic-based tests.

    So, if you think you may have been exposed to HIV within the last three months, they recommend that you should visit your GP or sexual health clinic to detect the infection as early as possible.

    Order an HIV home test kit »

This is not an exhaustive list, and other STI home testing services might be available in your local area. Look online to see if there are any other options available to you.

What to expect with an STI home testing kit

Home testing kits are super straightforward and they'll come with clear instructions on what to do.

If you're testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, you'll likely have to take a vaginal swab (if you're female) or pee in a pot (if you're male).

Or, if you're testing for HIV or syphilis, you'll have to take a blood sample which usually involves pricking your finger to draw blood.

Although it's easy enough to do, some people may feel queasy or uncomfortable doing it, in which case it might be best to ask someone to help you or visit your GP instead.

For advice on how to quit smoking and save money, check out our guide.

STI symptoms and treatment

colourful condoms

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It's easy to get confused with this part as there are a few different STIs out there – each with their own characteristics and methods of treatment.

If you're looking for a bit more info on what to expect before heading for your check-up, here's our list of the main STIs to look out for:

    1. Chlamydia

      What are the symptoms?

      Most people don't know they have chlamydia as its symptoms don't appear in around 70% of women and 50% of men – one of the reasons it's crucial to get regular checks.

      Although, when you pee you may experience pain, burning or notice an unusual discharge. Women might bleed between periods or experience pelvic pains, while men sometimes experience pain in their testicles.

      Chlamydia can cause problems with fertility and pregnancy in later life.

      How do you get tested?

      A chlamydia test is pretty easy and can be done for free at a clinic or via a home testing kit. If you're a male, it involves peeing in a pot and if you're a female you need to get a vaginal swab.

      How is it treated?

      A simple course of antibiotics.

    2. Gonorrhoea

      What are the symptoms?

      A large proportion of people won't show any symptoms for gonorrhoea, but you might experience tenderness in your abdominal area for females, or in the testicles for males. You could also feel burning when you pee or get a strange discharge.

      Like chlamydia, gonorrhoea causes problems with fertility and can be very painful.

      How do you get tested?

      Men will need to wee in a pot and women will have a swab taken from their vagina.

      How is it treated?

      A simple course of antibiotics.

    3. Genital herpes

      What are the symptoms?

      With genital herpes, you could find yourself feeling quite flu-like, as well as giving you small fluid-filled blisters around the genital/anal area, on the buttocks or the tops of your thighs. These will burst within a day or two but leave red sores which can be painful.

      How do you get tested?

      If you're being tested for herpes, you'll have to go and see a doctor so they can examine the blisters in person. They'll also take a swab to confirm their diagnosis.

      You can pay for herpes tests online, but as they're upwards of £70 in most cases, we say stick with the clinic.

      How is it treated?

      Sadly you cannot cure herpes, but taking courses of antiviral tablets will help to control the symptoms.

    4. Syphilis

      What are the symptoms?

      Syphilis is easily noticeable by sores which can appear anywhere on the body and can take up to six weeks to heal. They will usually appear in the genital area.

      While syphilis is nowhere near as common as some other STIs, if left untreated for long enough, it can lead to serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, bones and nervous system, even leading to loss of life.

      How do you get tested?

      This one really is a 'go to the clinic' situation. You'll be given an examination by a professional and you'll need to take a blood test as well.

      How is it treated?

      Thankfully, the treatment for syphilis involves a simple antibiotics injection.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. You've probably heard lots about HIV, genital warts and pubic lice (crabs) to name a few – it's just as important to get checked out for these too.

Chat with your GP or have a look at the NHS website if there's anything more you'd like to know.

Due a general health check-up soon? Check out our guide to getting cheap dental and medical care as a student.

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