I think I'm going to visit a free STD clinic. What options are out there?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 01: A man is offered a free HIV test in a Community Healthcare Network mobile clinic in Union Square on December 1, 2014 in New York City. December 1 is World AIDS day. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images). Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Question: I think I'm going to visit a free STD clinic. What options are out there?

Answer: There are several different types of free STD clinics. They all basically serve the same purpose -- testing and treating people for STDs. Those are things that you can do at any free STD clinic. However, some may also have other services. If there is any form of treatment a particular clinic can not provide, the staff can always refer you elsewhere for follow-up.

A free STD clinic can be a great place to get tested for STDs. After all, identifying and treating STDs is what these centers specialize in.

Free STD Clinic Options

  • City or County Run Clinics: Local governments often run free STD clinics one or more days a week. These clinics are usually first come, first served. They may offer a variety of rapid testing options in order to get patients into immediate treatment. It's a good idea to call your local health department to double-check clinic hours before attending. You should also plan to show up early. If you don't, you could have a long wait.
  • Hospital-based Clinics: Many public hospitals have a free STD clinic. However, it is often only open on a part-time schedule. These clinics usually work similarly to local government clinics. That said, it may be easier for hospital doctors to refer patients who need advanced treatment to appropriate options available on-site.
  • Clinics at GLBT Centers and Other Community Health Centers: Gay and lesbian community centers and health centers often run free STD clinics as a service to their target population. Other types of community health centers may do this as well, particularly those centers serving high-risk groups. Community health clinics may not always offer a full range of treatment options. Still, they are often a great resource for referrals not just to appropriate but culturally-sensitive care.
  • Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood isn't only for women. They can handle a lot more than just pregnancy care. Their clinics are well stocked for STD testing in both men and women. Furthermore, they can refer anything they can't treat to an appropriate local physician.

    Although some Planned Parenthood clinics offer free STD testing, it may only be available on certain days. In general, services are cost-scaled to your income. If you are looking for free STD testing, call first. That way you can see if it is available at your local Planned Parenthood clinic. You can also learn what information you may need to bring to demonstrate income eligibility.
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  • School-based Clinics: Many high schools and colleges have free student health clinics. These are usually are more than capable of testing and treating for the most common STDs. However, if you are concerned about anonymous testing, a school-based clinic may not be your best option.
  • Military Clinics: Military personnel and their families usually have access to free health clinics. These have the capacity to screen and treat for STDs. In fact, policy states that personnel are to be screened for HIV at least once every two years. That said, the fact that diagnosis with HIV or another STD can potentially have significant career ramifications for individuals in military service can be a problem. So can other confidentiality concerns. This may encourage some individuals to seek diagnosis and treatment elsewhere.

    How can you decide what type of free STD clinic to visit? The simplest thing is just to find the nearest clinic and go there.

    There are, however, some people who feel more comfortable seeking care at a specific type of clinic. For example, a transgender woman might feel more comfortable at a gay and lesbian center. There is nothing wrong with that. Being able to discuss your concerns with your doctor is an important part of receiving good medical care. That's particularly true when it comes to issues of sexual health.

    In the end, there is only one truly important thing about choosing a clinic: You need to pick one that will enable you to seek out care when you need it.

    Waiting puts your health, and the health of your sexual partners, at risk.

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