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I’m Getting an STI Test. What Will It Be Like?

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Especially when people haven’t gotten an STI test before, it’s common to be a bit worried that it will hurt. But, most tests today are minor. An STI test could be just peeing in a cup, and maybe giving blood. If it’s necessary, doctors or nurses might swab a sore, the throat, anus, vagina, or penis.

A lot of people worry that doctors will need to put a swab inside the penis. But, these tests are very rare today. You can always call the clinic ahead of time and ask if they do swab tests. You can also refuse any test that you’re not comfortable with.

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. There are also 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 kind of questions will they ask you?

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. There is no need to feel embarrassed. Doctors have heard it all and they’re trained not to judge. If you’re not sure about a question they ask, you can always ask for explanations!

What tests do they usually do?

Doctors and nurses do an STI test by collecting urine samples, blood samples, taking swabs, or all three. Then, they send the samples to the lab. They may also look at any bumps, rashes, or other symptoms you have. There’s no one test that can cover all STIs.

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. These tests work best when you haven’t peed for 2 hours before giving the urine sample. If you hold it in, you’ll also be ready to go when they give you a cup, so you won’t have to wait around until you have to pee.

Doctors test for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis with a blood sample. You can only detect these infections 1 – 3 months after an STI could have gotten in your 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 most often, they’d 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’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. They softly rotate it to get the sample. To do a swab test of the throat, doctors put a cotton swap or Q-tip into your throat. They softly rotate it to get the sample.

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. Most people say it isn’t too painful. This test is most accurate if you haven’t peed for 2 hours before. These tests are very rare nowadays.

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 (1-800-263-2266) or text (514-600-1002) TelJeunes, a youth helpline.

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  and they may be able to reimburse you. There are also clinics like as Head and Hands where testing is available for free.

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