How to Ask Your Doctor for STD Testing

Standard STD Panel Tests You Should Get

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Many people think that STD screening is part of their normal health care. Unfortunately, most of the time it isn't.

If you want to be proactive about your sexual health and get tested, you need to be able to ask your doctor for the tests you want. That's true whether you want an STD panel for your own peace of mind or before taking a new sexual partner.

Why Get Tested?

One of the most frequent questions asked of sexual health experts is, "How do I know if I have an STD?" The answer should always be the same: You need an STD test.

STD tests are the only way you can be certain whether you have an STD. Why? There are two main reasons:

  1. People are worried because they have STD symptoms.
  2. People don't know whether to worry because they don't have symptoms. 

Many STD symptoms are non-specific. This means that any symptoms that you have could be caused by a number of different STDs. They could even be caused by another type of disease entirely! The only way to be certain is to get tested. Otherwise, any treatment a doctor prescribes isn't particularly likely to work.

Most people with STDs have no symptoms. That means they look, smell, and feel exactly the same as they would without having an STD. However, they can still pass their infections onto their partners. They may also experience long-term consequences, such as infertility.The only way to identify these hidden STDs is, again, getting tested. 

You also need know what you've been tested for.

Otherwise, you may assume that you've been tested for something when you really haven't.

The Tests You Want 

Asking for an STD panel isn't a great way to get tested. It's hard to be certain what is on any given doctor's or test site's panel. Therefore, it's best to ask for specific STD tests. For comprehensive STD screening, there are a number of tests that you can ask for.

These include:

Bacterial & Fungal STDs

  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the easiest STDs to be tested for. Young women are sometimes screened for them automatically. However, neither they nor young men can depend on that. Anyone with a new partner or multiple partners should probably be screened for these two STDs. These two STDs are tested for with either a swab or a urine test.
  • Most syphilis testing is performed with a blood test. Syphilis screening is recommended for pregnant women and certain high-risk groups. These include prison inmates, men who have high-risk sex with men, and patients with another STD. In the absence of symptoms, however, other people are not usually tested for syphilis. This is because of the risk of false positives.
  • Trichomoniasis and BV are usually tested for using a vaginal swab. There is also a trichomoniasis urine test. Men are unlikely to be screened for trichomoniasis unless their partner is positive. 

Viral STDs

  • HIV tests are almost always blood tests. However, some clinics can test a swab of your oral fluid. Everyone should be tested, at least once, for HIV. People who engage in risky behavior should be tested more often. 
  • Herpes screening is done with a blood test, unless you have symptoms. If you have symptoms, you may be diagnosed by a physical exam or a swab of your sores. Some doctors are reluctant to use herpes blood tests in the absence of symptoms. There are concerns about the risk of false positive tests, particularly when combined with herpes stigma. 
  • Hepatitis is diagnosed with a series of blood tests. You can also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. These vaccinations are widely recommended. 
  • There is no standard test for HPV in men, unless they have anal sex. However, women may be tested for HPV alongside their pap smear. Some dentists will also offer an oral swab test to look for throat infections with HPV. Unfortunately, these oral tests are not easy to find.

Any blood test that tests for antibodies can take up to six months to turn positive. In addition, they will generally not be positive for at least several weeks. Antibody tests include the standard screening tests for herpes and HIV.

Therefore, if you are being screened after a risky encounter, it is important to let your doctor know. There may be other testing options to detect very new infections.

At the Doctor's Office

When you go to a doctor to be tested for STDs, they may start by asking you questions about your risk factors. After assessing what diseases you are at risk for, they will test you for those conditions. That said, if you know you are at risk for a particular disease or just want more comprehensive screening, speak up. The best way to make sure you’re screened is to ask.

Public clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, frequently STD test as a standard part of a yearly exam. Unfortunately, many private doctors do not. Therefore you may think you’re safe because your doctor hasn’t told you that you have an infection. However, it’s possible that you haven’t been tested at all.

You should always ask what screening tests your doctor has performed. Don’t hesitate to ask for additional tests if you think they are appropriate. STD testing is often, but not always, covered by insurance. It is also sometimes available for free at a clinic.

These days, most STDs can be tested for with urine or blood tests. These are quick and relatively painless. It is rare that STD testing requires a urethral swab in men. Women aren't so lucky. They may still need to have a vaginal swab performed to test for certain bacterial infections. However, the vaginal swab shouldn't be uncomfortable. Women who are nervous may be able to ask their doctors if they can do their own swab.

How to Ask for an STD Test

Do not simply ask for "STD screening" or even "comprehensive STD screening." Those requests mean different things to different doctors. The same thing is true for asking for an STD panel. Instead, you should say something like:

  • "Although I always practice safer sex, I like to be screened on a yearly basis for my own peace of mind. Therefore, I would like to be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HIV, and trichomoniasis, please." Or...
  • "I'm about to start having sex with a new partner and we'd both like to be tested before we do. Could you test me for the bacterial STDs, HIV, and herpes?" Or...
  • "I recently had unprotected sex and I'm worried that my partner may have exposed me to something. Could you give me a full battery of STD tests including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, herpes, and hepatitis? I know it might take some of those tests a bit of time to turn positive, but it would make me feel better to do something."

If Your Doctor Says No

Most doctors are willing to screen you for STDs if you ask them and explain why it is important to you. However, some doctors are really bad about screening. They may not think testing is important. They may not know that certain screening tests, like those for genital herpes, exist. If this happens, you have several options:

  • Ask why they aren't willing to test you. Then you can politely explain why you disagree with any of their assumptions and would still like to get tested.
  • Find a different doctor.
  • Visit a Planned Parenthood or STD clinic where doctors are better informed about testing.
  • Use an online testing service. (Not all online testing services are the same. Do your research first! If you go this route, you should, at minimum, look for one that sends you to a standard medical lab in your area, such as Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp. The service you choose should also provide after-test counseling and referrals for treatment.)

A Word From Verywell

If you are open and upfront about your reasons for wanting testing, most doctors will respect you for your desire to take care of your health. However, if you get any other reaction from your doctor, it is okay to look elsewhere for medical care. Your sexual decisions are your own. It is not your doctor's place to judge you for them. Their job is to take care of your health and help you to do the same.

Sources:

Feltner C, Grodensky C, Ebel C, Middleton JC, Harris RP, Ashok M, Jonas DE. Serologic Screening for Genital Herpes: An Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2016 Dec 20;316(23):2531-2543. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.17138.

Golden MR, Hughes JP, Dombrowski JC. Optimizing the Timing of HIV Screening as Part of Routine Medical Care. AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2017 Jan;31(1):27-32. doi: 10.1089/apc.2016.0185.

Wangu Z, Burstein GR. Adolescent Sexuality: Updates to the Sexually Transmitted Infection Guidelines. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2017 Apr;64(2):389-411. doi: 10.1016/j.pcl.2016.11.008. 

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