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How to get a free STI test

Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections isn't something you can shy away from. Thankfully, it's the easiest process ever and doesn't have to cost a penny!

free STI test

We all know the safest option is to always to use a condom when having sex – don't forget you can pick these up for free all across the country.

However, sometimes things don't go to plan, so it's always better to get checked out if you're sexually active, even when you have been taking precautions.

Health professionals predict that at least one in fourteen sexually active people under the age of 25 will have Chlamydia.

But while this is a scary number, getting rid of STIs is mostly pretty straight forward – the hardest part is bothering to find out if you have one in the first place!

If you've had unprotected sex, 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.

Why should you get an STI test?

safe sex protection

If you've had unprotected sex of any kind – vaginal, anal, or even oral – and haven't used protection, you could pick up an STI (this also goes for genital contact and shared sex toys, by the way).

The scary part is that you might 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 are very easily treated, but this all hinges on you taking the test first! You shouldn't feel embarrassed about taking care of your body, and if the idea of taking a trip to the clinic makes you flush, you can even test yourself at home.

Even if you are using protection or are in a long-term relationship, it's still worth getting tested regularly. Health experts recommend you get tested at least once a year.

How soon can you get tested for an STI?

how long wait for STI test

After having unprotected sex you might be tempted to get tested as soon as possible to ensure you catch any infections early.

This is obviously a good attitude to have, but 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 (essentially how long it takes after first being exposed to an infection to show on a test).

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. That's why 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 to show up on a test:

  • Chlamydia: 1-5 days
  • Gonorrhoea: 2-6 days
  • Syphilis: 3-6 weeks
  • Hepatitis A: 2-7 weeks
  • Hepatitis B: 6 weeks
  • Hepatitis C: 8-9 weeks
  • Oral herpes: 4-6 weeks
  • Genital herpes: 4-6 weeks
  • HIV: 1-3 months

Can you get an STI test at your doctors?

GP-STI-test

Many GP surgeries do 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 on this one.

Find your nearest STI service »

 

What to expect at an STI test

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

  1. You'll be able to request to be seen by a male or female doctor/nurse – but might 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. Testing for Herpes isn't normally done 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 1-2 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 – via text message for example
  5. If you test positive for an STI, you'll be invited back to the clinic for treatment.

Can you test for STIs at home?

STI home testing kit

Credit: Kamal Hamid – Flickr

One of the main reasons people put off getting at STI test is the stress and hassle of going to your GP or local sexual health clinic. Well, 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 and others aren't, so make sure to check the eligibility criteria carefully for each.

  1. NHS Chlamydia test

    NHS free Chlamydia testingCost: FREE

    If you're under 25, the NHS offer 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 free STI testingCost: 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 within seven days.

    However, it's only available in 15 areas of the country.

    Order a free home STI test kit »

  3. Fettle

    Fettle STI testingCost: £21 – £24 per test

    If you don't live in one of the 15 areas covered by SH:24, 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 Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea test is £21, and each other infection will require a separate test, each priced at either £21 or £24. However, you can get a small discount when ordering multiple test kits together.

    They do offer a super fast service – they'll send the test to you First Class 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 testingCost: FREE

    If it's HIV you're worried about, you can also order yourself a free 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 15-20 minutes.

    You can also buy these online, but make sure to check for the CE mark which proves it's safe to use.

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

    Therefore, it's recommended that if you believe you've been exposed to HIV within the last three months, that you visit your GP or sexual health clinic to detect the infection as early as possible.

    Order a free HIV home test kit »

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

What to expect with a STI home testing kit

Home testing kits are very straight forward, and will come with clear instructions on what you have to do.

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

However, if you're testing for HIV and Syphilis, you'll have to take a blood sample – which normally involves pricking your finger to draw blood.

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

STI symptoms and treatment

It's easy to get confused with this part as there are a few different STIs out there – each with their own characteristics (and as a result, their own special way of being dealt with).

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 STI culprits below.

  1. Chlamydia

    chlamydiaWhat is it?
    The most common STI in the book, Chlamydia can cause problems with fertility and pregnancy in later life.

    What are the symptoms?
    Most people don't know they have Chlamydia as its symptoms don't appear in up to 70% of people, so that's why it's so crucial to get regular checks.

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

    How do you get tested?
    A chlamydia test is pretty easy, and can be done for free at a clinic 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

    41rviiBorZL._SY300_What is it?
    Another shady character, Gonorrhoea causes problems with fertility and can be very painful.

    What are the symptoms?
    Again, a large proportion of people won't show any symptoms, but you might find a tenderness in you abdominal area for females, or in the testicles for males. You could also experience burning when you pee or a strange discharge.

    How do you get tested?
    Like Chlamydia, If you're a man you'll 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

    herpesWhat is it?
    Herpes is a virus that leaves you feeling pretty pokey and 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.

    What are the symptoms?
    The symptoms above should be easy enough to spot, but even if you don't experience everything on the list, do go and get checked out.

    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 the flesh. 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

    microbes_26What is it?
    While Syphilis is nowhere near as common as 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.

    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.

    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 or pubic lice (crabs) to name just a few – it's just as important to get checked out for these too.

While you're at it, why not get a general health check up too? Here's how you can get cheap dental and medical care as a student!

Check out the NHS Sexual Health information if you have any unanswered questions!

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