It’s common to be worried when getting an STI test. If you haven’t had one before, you might wonder what to expect! It can help to know that STI testing is quick, simple, and usually doesn’t hurt. You can talk to the doctor about any concerns you have, and take time before getting tested to prepare.
Where can I get an STI test? How long does it take?
You can get STI testing in Montreal at a CLSC, a doctor’s office, or a health clinic like Head and Hands. You can also get an STI test at your school or university health clinic. And there are specific clinics in Montreal with free testing for youth, men who have sex with men, trans people, and sex workers. A visit can take between 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the clinic and what tests you need.
What kinds of STI tests are there? What kinds do they usually do?
There are a few different ways that a doctor or nurse can test for STIs. STI testing can include:
- A urine test
- A blood test
- A cheek swab
- A swab test of the vagina or front hole, penis or bottom growth, anus, throat, urethra, or sores on your body
- A physical exam to check your body for sores or other STI symptoms
Because there’s no one STI test that covers all STIs, you can talk to a doctor or nurse to figure out which tests are right for you. They may do multiple tests, or just one! It all depends on your wants and needs. Some ways different STIs are tested for include:
- The test for chlamydia and gonorrhea is a urine sample, or a swab test inside the vagina or throat. They can do these test 2–3 weeks after an STI could have gotten in your body. For the urine test, you have to pee into a small cup.
- Doctors test for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis with a blood sample taken from the arm or finger. These STIs show up 1 – 3 months after entering the body. If you have symptoms of syphilis like sores, doctors may also take a sample from the sore.
- The most reliable STI test for herpes is to test a sample of an active sore (the red blister that can show up on your lips or privates). So doctors just swab a sore with a q-tip! If an outbreak clears up, doctors will do a blood test. But they’ll often also ask you to come back in if a sore shows up to get the more accurate swab test.
- Doctors diagnose genital warts (from HPV) by looking at the warts. Doctors recommend that people with cervixes start getting pap tests when they turn 21. Pap tests check for the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Pap tests typically aren’t part of routine STI testing.
What kind of questions will they ask? What if I feel uncomfortable?
Before the test, the doctor or the nurse will ask you a few questions. These are to find out what STIs they should test for and where to test for them. So, if you’ve had oral sex, they might want to test your throat.
It helps if you’re as honest as you can. This way you’ll make sure they test for everything you’re at risk for and you’ll get any treatment you might need. It’s common to feel embarrassed or nervous about this, but doctors have hear it all! They’re usually trained not to judge or make comments about a patients’ body or sex life. And if you’re not sure why they’re asking something, you can always ask them to explain the question!
You can also tell your doctor anything else that’s important for them to know about your healthcare. This can include your pronouns or any language you want or don’t want used to describe your body. If you’d prefer for them to use words like “front hole” instead of “vagina”, “bottom growth” instead of “penis”, or anything else, it’s your right to ask for that! You can also ask to see a different doctor or nurse if the one you’re talking to doesn’t respect your boundaries. For more on your rights as a patient, check out our FAQ!
How much does testing cost?
If you have RAMQ, testing is free. If you are from another province or you have private insurance, you can check with the policies of your home province or insurance provider. You may have to pay up front and apply for reimbursement later. Without coverage, the cost for STI testing depends on what kinds of tests you have done. A full screening can cost between $200-300 CAD.
If you’re 25 or younger, you can get tested for free with or without RAMQ at Head and Hands or a CLSC youth clinic. For more on where to find free testing in Montreal, check out our FAQ!
What’s a swab test?
Doctors and nurses sometimes do swab tests to confirm a positive result, or to test areas that a urine or blood test can’t, like the throat or anus. Often, you can ask to do the swab yourself in private. Some more recent STI tests allow you to do that. Swab tests can be a bit uncomfortable, but they usually don’t hurt and only last for a few seconds.
For people with vaginas, doctors insert a cotton swab or Q-tip into the vaginal canal. They softly rotate it to get the sample. To do a swab test of the anus, doctors insert a cotton swab or Q-tip into the anus, about 2 centimeters in. And for a swab test of the throat, doctors put a cotton swap or Q-tip into your throat.
For people with penises, doctors insert a very small cotton swab or Q-tip into the tip of the penis. It can be uncomfortable for a moment, but it’s over quickly. These tests are rare today!
Waiting for results
Most STI test results come back from the lab in 1 to 2 weeks. Depending on the clinic, the doctor or nurse may only call you if you test positive for an STI. If you want to be sure you tested negative, you can call the clinic to check two or more weeks after your visit.
If you find yourself worrying a lot while you wait for your results, it can help to talk about it with trusted friends or family. You can also call TelJeunes or KidsHelpPhone to talk to a peer counselor in real time.